Drug tests and second hand pot
November 14, 2007 8:07 PM   Subscribe

How carefully should I avoid second-hand pot smoke if I'm going to be applying for a security clearance?

I'm in college and I'm looking into internships and careers in the DoD, including some jobs that will require clearances. Most of the literature I've read about the clearance process makes it clear that illicit drugs are not cool which is ok because I stay away from them as a general rule. However, as I'm in college and currently living in a dorm full of other college students I occasionally find myself at parties/walking into common rooms where other students are smoking pot. How necessary is it for me to remove myself from these situations? I've heard about tests for marijuana use involving hair. Will second hand smoke trigger them? If I apply for a security clearance will part of the process involve one of these tests? If it comes up positive and I explain that I can't help it if I walk down the hall and someone is smoking with the door open will I still be able to get a clearance? No, I'd rather not go running to an RA every time someone on my floor lights a joint. What they do with their spare time and money is none of my business. I just want to know how diligent I should be about avioding them
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing that DoD employees, particularly those with security clearances, are expected to take a lie detector test. So this will likely come up one way or another.

And, while I'm not a doctor, a casual exposure to second hand smoke doesn't seem likely to set off any alarms. That being said, it's rather easy to explain this and a polygraph could verify it in the event that you fail a drug test.

A friend of mine works for Homeland Security and he mentioned to me that, while they frown on drug use for obvious reasons, they don't seem so insane that they would disqualify you because you happened to be in the vicinity of someone sparking up a doob.
posted by dhammond at 8:16 PM on November 14, 2007

No, I'd rather not go running to an RA every time someone on my floor lights a joint.

And shit, I know you're not really asking about this specifically, but please please please don't be snitchin'. It's just not cool.

A simple "hey, it's kind of bothering me, can you put that out" should suffice in most instances.

posted by dhammond at 8:18 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

The impression I get from friends I've spoken to about this is that a large part of the reason drug use is such a strike against your clearance is not that you're using drugs, but that you put yourself in a blackmail-conducive position by purchasing or accepting drugs. In other words, you committed a crime that almost necessarily involved a witness or two. If you end up in possession of important secrets and ideas, they don't want you to be easily compromised because you're afraid of something about your past getting out.

I'm not really familiar with the chemistry of the situation, but I think you'd have to breathe a lot of secondhand pot for it to show up in a test. Just leaving the room almost certainly would do it. Also, you might want to go running to an RA once, or at least complain about it while nobody is actively indulging. Then if they do the thing where they call around to your acquaintances to ask about you, you can give the RA as one of your acquaintances who can vouch that you not only don't use drugs, but were so bothered by their use that you mentioned it. They don't always call the acquaintances (I was supposed to get called by the ONR but it never happened) but it might be an insurance policy.
posted by crinklebat at 8:21 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

From all the security clearances I've seen people go through, none oddly enough had to take a drug test. It more they had to be able to say they hadn't taken any illicit drugs for a given amount of years (it varies). I've heard of lie detectors being used in security clearances, but not for things like pot smoking and as a college intern I would be stunned if you were given access to anything that would require that sort of security clearance.

One tip, if you have done any drugs, I wouldn't lie about it. However, be prepared for the fact that they will want to know the name of every person who you have smoked with /purchased from within that time period for them to clear you.
posted by whoaali at 8:52 PM on November 14, 2007

I've never heard of a hair test for marijuana. You will be drug tested if you work for the DoD or a contractor, but I've only ever seen urine tests. They're actually especially easy - my employer gave me as much time as I wanted to "prepare" (not that I needed any) as well as a free retry. If you work for the NSA or CIA, you may be subject to a lifestyle polygraph, which does cover drug use/exposure. However, the vast majority of the jobs require no polygraph. Of those that do require a polygraph, most are counterintelligence polygraphs which do not cover drug use.

In short - you'll be fine. Provided you don't take drugs yourself, noone will care. Even if you have had some experiences yourself, if you stop immediately and are completely open about your usage on your security clearance forms, you will not have a problem.
posted by saeculorum at 8:55 PM on November 14, 2007

I know someone in the military who gets regular drug tests who had no problem sitting in a closed car while someone else in the car smoked pot, and said he knew the second hand smoke wouldn't be an issue for him. So I don't think you have anything to worry about.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 9:04 PM on November 14, 2007

I've not taken a drug test for the clearance, but I'd expect one for the position. The clearances merely required that you are upfront about past use (and sales!), and while it will vary on your site officer, they seemed to be more concerned about your being upfront in the future rather than 100% avoidance.
posted by kcm at 9:04 PM on November 14, 2007

Hair and urine tests screen for marijuana metabolites. If you're not inhaling enough to get high, you're not metabolizing enough of the stuff for it to be detectable.

I wouldn't hang out for hours in an unventilated room with the Competition Bong Hit Team, but stopping to chat with a couple of guys burning a fatty isn't going to cause a positive drug test, though it may subject you to questionable music and grandiose nonsense.

Which on second thought sounds like pretty good preparation for a career with the DoD.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:05 PM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

kcm describes my experience with this issue. I worked for a DoD consulting company several years ago. The offer was conditional on me passing a basic urine drug screening at an independent clinic, and all personnel were required to pass this test (and subject to additional testing if circumstances required).

After several months, my position grew to require a standard security clearance. This clearance process did not require a drug test, but instead was based on a very long form (SF86) that included detailed information about where I'd lived and worked for the past seven years, family members and references, connections to foreign individuals, run ins with the law, etc. Page 10 of the test has a section for listing all non-legal drug use/sales/trafikking within the last seven years. The form gives you just two lines to describe each event, which may strike some as funny. There were no polygraphs or additional testing, but the security officer was a 7' tall ex-marine and a terrific judge of character.
posted by mochapickle at 9:25 PM on November 14, 2007

The two people close to me who have higher level security clearances (one in the DoD, one in military intel) both have drug histories and were consorting with drug users when they got their clearances. It was a simple matter of total honesty to get the necessary clearances. Neither of them were using at the time, but both had certainly been around potsmokers when they were tested originally, and have been since.
posted by padraigin at 10:32 PM on November 14, 2007

In the DoD you can have a Secret or a Top Secret (there are higher too I'd assume, but you won't be up for one).

A Secret clearance requires no drug test, no lie detector test. You will fill out a huge application detailing everywhere you have ever lived, you will be asked for names and other details of neighbors, friends, family, anyone who can vouch that you are who you say you are. They will call some of these people, and visit others. They will check your financial history to make sure, as mentioned above, that you're not suspectible to blackmail or bribery. They will check your criminal history.

As someone mentioned above, you are likely drug tested for the job, not the Clearance. From the amount of second hand pot you're around, I'd say you'll be fine. I think you'd literally have to be living in a dorm room, with your roommate smoking all day long for THC to show up in your urine. If you never feel like you're getting high from all that second-hand smoke, I can't imagine it showing up on a standard test.

I got a Secret clearance and a job for a contractor at the DoD. I definitely did not take a drug test for the clearance. I may have had a drug test for the job. I can't specifically remember that, but I can tell you no drug test has ever sampled my hair. So, in the worst case scenario it's likely a piss test. I can also tell you that in my younger years, I was around a lot of second-hand pot smoke, and I've never failed a drug test.

Now, a Top Secret clearance, which I have never applied for, is a different story. In this case, there is most certainly a polygraph. I can't say what kind of drug testing they might do.
posted by poppo at 3:13 AM on November 15, 2007

There's no polygraph or drug test for a top secret clearance in and of itself. The polys come after TS, if necessary, and shouldn't be a concern (above and beyond standard polys-don't-work risk) if you're honest. As others have said, drug testing is common at defense contractors for other reasons, but is unlikely to be that sensitive.

Check out this site, which describes appeals of security-clearance decisions for DoD contractors, to get a feel for how the guidelines are applied. Some folks with not-pristine pasts (drug use in recent years, serious debts, convictions, etc.) are able to get clearances, albeit after an appeal, while minor dishonesty during the investigation is a serious problem.

I would suggest worrying less about the situations you're in and more about the company you keep. A top secret clearance investigation will entail a Federal investigator talking in person to your friends, your lovers, and your neighbors, past and current. They can dig surprisingly deep. While a unsupported negative comment ("Always a bunch of hippie druggies at that place," says former neighbor) likely won't result in rejection, checking it out may add yet another delay to the clearance process that can already take years.
posted by backupjesus at 3:29 AM on November 15, 2007

I haven't been drug-tested for any of my clearances (done through DoD), but I'm not saying it definitely won't happen to you. And, I'm not a chemist, but you should be OK if you're just in the room with the smokers. Also, what crinklebat and others have said - it's not about your use, per se, it's about your potential for coersion. That said, be upfront and honest about it.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:55 AM on November 15, 2007


Also, you might want to go running to an RA once, or at least complain about it while nobody is actively indulging.

No, don't do this.

I would suggest worrying less about the situations you're in and more about the company you keep. While a unsupported negative comment ("Always a bunch of hippie druggies at that place," says former neighbor) likely won't result in rejection, checking it out may add yet another delay to the clearance process that can already take years.

Dude lives in a college dorm.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:57 AM on November 15, 2007

Second hand smoke will not affect any test.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:58 AM on November 15, 2007

I've been through a polygraph for a job at a police department before and the question of drug use came up and I explained that I've been around second hand pot smoking before but never did it myself. My examiner was only concerned whether or not I've ever put the joint/bong to my lips myself -- not second hand smoke.
posted by fallenposters at 2:11 PM on November 15, 2007

Like mochapickle I've filled out an SF86. You're asked about drug use and sales but "did you countenance people abusing illegal drugs without calling in the Man" doesn't appear anywhere on it. I kid, but really - there's nothing in the forms or the interviews typically that is going to concern itself with the fact that you live in the world and things go on around you.

For drug testing purposes, you'd have to spend a lot of time in a thick plume of ganha smoke to impact them. If your roommie isn't toking while you sleep you need not worry.
posted by phearlez at 8:25 AM on November 16, 2007

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