Virginia Bill To Protect Public Workers From Being Fired For Medical Marijuana Heads To Governor’s Desk

The Virginia House of Delegates has approved a Senate-passed bill to protect public sector workers such as government officials and teachers from being fired for medical marijuana use.

The House advanced the legislation from Sen. Stella Pekarsky (D) in an 80-18 vote on Friday, sending it to the governor’s desk. If enacted into law, it would align the state’s medical cannabis employment policy for public workers with those that are already in place for the private sector.

However, the measure specifically exempts law enforcement officials from the protections.

Under the measure that’s heading to Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), Virginia code would be amended to include the following language:

“No employer shall discharge, discipline, or discriminate against an employee for such employee’s lawful use of cannabis oil under the laws of the Commonwealth pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner for the treatment or to eliminate the symptoms of the employee’s diagnosed condition or disease.”

It also stipulates that the law would not prevent employers from taking adverse action against employees who are impaired on the job or possess cannabis on workplace premises.

A separate bill to provide medical marijuana employment protections for public sector workers was approved in the House last month, and it was amended in a Senate committee last week to add the law enforcement exception language so that it’s consistent with the Senate version that’s now advanced through both chambers.

While marijuana was legalized for adult use in Virginia under a bill enacted into law by Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor in 2021, there’s currently no system of regulated sales so residents are only able to purchase cannabis through the medical program.

Legislation has advanced through both chambers this session to allow recreational sales, with lawmakers aiming to make a pair of bills identical before potentially sending the reform to the governor. But Youngkin signaled last month that he doesn’t have “any interest” in legalizing sales under the Democrat-led plans.

When he was first elected, however, Youngkin said he was “not against” allowing commercial sales categorically.

A sales bill did advance through the Democratic-controlled Senate last session, but it stalled in committee in the House, which at the time had a GOP majority. Following last year’s elections, Democrats took control of both chambers of the legislature.

With respect to the employment protections legislation, a number of states have moved to similarly amend laws to accommodate medical cannabis patients and adult consumers.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.—

For example, under two pieces of legislation signed into law in 2022 and 2023 that took effect this year, California employers are now prohibited from asking job applicants about past cannabis use, and most are barred from penalizing employees over lawful use of marijuana outside of the job.

In Washington State, meanwhile, the recently effective law will protect workers from facing employment discrimination during the hiring process over their lawful use of cannabis.

A Florida Senate bill that was filed last month would prevent state employers from firing workers over their participation in the medical cannabis program.

At the congressional level, a House committee passed a bill last September to protect people from being denied federal jobs or security clearances over past marijuana use. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a score of the legislation last week, finding it would have “negligible” costs, in part because most past denial records that agencies would be required to review going back to 2008 are unlikely to have been retained.

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