The Cannabis Closet: How The Drug War Makes Liars Of So Many

The Cannabis Closet

Urtak’s Marc Lizoain breaks down some of the results from the above survey we ran last week:

One of the worst things about the cruel prohibition of a plant that brings pleasure and comfort to so many is that it makes criminals and liars out of otherwise honest people. More than a third [of surveyed Dish readers] have lied about their marijuana use on an official form or application.

Readers submitted a dozen more questions to the survey since it was first launched, so feel free to answer all 23 above. Many readers also responded to the cannabis confession regarding the Department of Energy applicant confronted with prior drug use. One writes:

I have a good friend in DC who lost a new job with the Feds last year because he was honest about his past use of pot. His job was classified as part of the White House, so it involved a higher level of scrutiny than other executive branch positions. Of course, it is unbelievably ironic and unfair that having a White House job involves a higher bar that gets you fired for pot use when the man at the top of the White House smoked and proudly inhaled.


Before joining the U.S. Foreign Service, where I had a Top Secret (and at times TS/Special Compartmented Information) clearance, I underwent a background investigation, which included a question on drug use. I freely admitted that I’d smoked marijuana in college but no longer did. Even as I was giving the answer, you could see the security officer writing down the standard “limited experimentation in college” line. They didn’t care about marijuana use (and don’t now) as long as it’s in the past; however, current use will get you denied entry or bounced out if you’re already in. Same was true for the CIA, which finally caved on it because they realized they couldn’t hire anyone if they insisted on a no-use-ever standard. As long as it’s been several years since your pot use, you won’t be denied a security clearance. Better to admit it than to be caught in a lie about it.



On a related note, I was completing grad school and had to apply for individual medical coverage. I’ve always taken care of myself, eating well and exercising regularly, Cannabis-closetand other than a yearly physical, I rarely see a doctor. One would think I’d be an insurance provider’s ideal applicant – young, healthy, and with no history of previous conditions. However, when I came to the question, “Have you used illegal drugs in the past five years?” I decided to be honest and checked “Yes.” I don’t remember if the application asked for further explanation, but if it did I would’ve said that I’d smoked marijuana a few years back.

The next day I received a letter from the provider declining to provide coverage. The letter specifically cited the disclosure that I’d used illegal drugs as the reason my application had been rejected. My mother, who worked in the healthcare field at the time, told me I’d been stupid to answer honestly and that the question about drug use was basically asking whether or not I was a drug addict. (My response to this was that if I were a drug addict I obviously would’ve lied about it.) I eventually went through an agent who directed me to another provider and showed me the “correct way” to answer this question.


The story from the woman whose husband told the truth on a background questionnaire reminded me of a dilemma I confronted while applying for U.S. citizenship in the 1990s. I am European by birth and moved to the U.S. at the age of nine with my parents, who were both university researchers. We all received green cards, and my folks applied for – and were granted – citizenship as soon as they were eligible. But I kept putting off citizenship until I was in my mid-20s, when I realized it was time to make a formal commitment to the country I had called home for 16 years and where I had always planned to stay.

The naturalization application was easy, until I got to the one question that stopped me cold: “Have you ever committed a crime, other than a traffic violation, for which you were not arrested?”

The answer was yes. I had been a regular pot smoker for years, and had tried a few other illicit substances. I had occasionally even sold pot, in small quantities, to defray the cost of my own indulgence. I had been an underage drinker. In all these respects I was not any different from many of the privileged East Coast kids who were my friends at boarding school and my private liberal-arts college. I was a criminal in the eyes of the law, though I felt no guilt about this since the only person I had ever hurt was myself (I was a fairly bright but indifferent student, and being a stoner did not help in this regard).

It was a wrenching situation. I truly did not want to lie to the federal government, both as a practical matter and because it simply seemed like the wrong thing to do when I was petitioning for the right to swear an oath upholding our laws and Constitution. But I also did not want my application rejected. By this point I was an American in just about every respect, with my own home and a productive, rewarding career. Deportation would have been devastating.

I thought about telling an abridged version of the truth: Confess to drinking and smoking pot on a few occasions, without disclosing the fact that I’d also tried cocaine and LSD or that I had peddled a few grams of sativa to my freshman year dorm-mates. Surely a history of light pot smoking would not disqualify a person for citizenship?

But ultimately I rejected this plan. I would still be lying to the government, and now they would have a reason to investigate my life and, quite possibly, harass my friends and employers. I imagined my application being dropped in the wrong pile, and having an INS agent show up at my door demanding to know the names of everyone I never got high with.

So I consulted lawyers and family members, and talked things over with older adults that I trusted. I wrestled with my conscience. And then I answered “no.”

That was 15 years ago. My application sailed through the process, and I beamed with pride and patriotism as I took the oath in downtown Washington, just a few blocks from the Capitol. I’ve never regretted my decision. And every once in a while, after my wife and daughter have gone to sleep, I will put on some good music and take a few tugs of a joint.

(Image: Cover of The Cannabis Closet book, which can be purchased here.)