RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In the year-plus since marijuana was legalized in Virginia, law enforcement agencies have taken a variety of approaches to deal with the impact of the substance on employment policies.
As of July 1, 2021, Virginians aged 21 and older could possess small amounts of marijuana legally. But they could also still lose their jobs for recreational use, depending on their employer’s drug policy.
In Hanover County, a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said that slight changes were made to the agency’s hiring process in the aftermath of marijuana legalization. Although the agency no longer inquires about marijuana usage during the hiring process, the zero-tolerance policy for those who become or are already employed remains in effect.
“Members shall not consume, ingest, or smoke marijuana, or any other form of concentrated THC, medical or otherwise, while on or off-duty,” the policy stated.
A spokesperson said that he was unaware of any impact this may have had on hiring or recruitment.
Meanwhile, in Henrico County, the “use of marijuana, hash or hash oil within the past 12 months” remained a disqualification for prospective officers with the police division. Public Information Officer Lt. Matthew Pecka said he could not speculate on the correlation between marijuana and hiring.
“In some departments, things like the time period from the last use and that sort of thing have come up and been discussed,” Virginia Police Benevolent Association (VAPBA) Executive Director Sean McGowan told 8News. “I expect that the mindset hasn’t changed too much over the years. Drug use and law enforcement are not something that can coexist in employees.”
The Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office has maintained its random drug testing and stated that employees of the agency and the locality as a whole are prohibited from being under the influence of marijuana.
8News also reached out to the Richmond and Chesterfield County Police Departments but were directed to their respective human resources departments.
“In my experience — and I represent 9,000 law enforcement professionals in the State of Virginia — I’ve not had a single case where the use of marijuana has come into play in the course of someone’s employment,” McGowan said. “As far as the hiring process is concerned, you have to be a police officer or a law enforcement professional to join our organization, and if you’re not already in a department, you can’t join.”
Other non-law enforcement employers have also maintained zero-tolerance policies when it comes to drug testing and marijuana usage. The Richmond Ambulance Authority, for example, is bound by the rules and regulations of the State Office of EMS, which prohibits any type of marijuana use. Similarly, HCA Virginia Hospital, as a recipient of federal funding, must adhere to federal law, which still classifies marijuana as illegal.
8News contacted local school divisions, the Virginia Department of Education, local fire departments and the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, but has yet to receive responses from several of these agencies.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson shared the following response with 8News regarding the policy for Chesterfield Fire & EMS:
Chesterfield County employees must abide by Chesterfield County Policy 6-19, Alcohol and Substance Abuse, and Policy 6-27, CDL – Alcohol and Substance Abuse, which prohibits the use of illegal drugs and alcohol in the workplace as a requirement of the federal Drug Free Workplace Act. Although certain possession and use of cannabis is legal under Virginia law, it is still against federal law. As a result, Chesterfield amended Policy 6-19 in September 2021 to comply with Virginia laws and permit employees (excluding CDL drivers and those who follow Policy 6-27) who possess a valid written certification from a medical practitioner for cannabis products to have a positive test excused with proof of the certification. However, even with a valid written certification, an employee is prohibited from coming to work impaired by any substance (legal or illegal) for safety reasons. Therefore, all employees remain subject to reasonable suspicion and, where applicable, random drug testing. If a violation of policy occurs, swift and appropriate action will be taken. Per county policy, new hires remain subject to pre-employment drug testing.
A spokesperson from Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS), however, did note that marijuana use is prohibited by the school division.
HCPS’ policy states:
No HCPS employee shall unlawfully manufacture, distribute, dispense, possess or use on or in the workplace any narcotic drug, hallucinogenic drug, amphetamine, barbiturate, marijuana or any other controlled substance, as defined in schedules I through V of § 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and as further defined by regulation at 21 CFR 1300.11 through 1300.15.
However, possession of marijuana in small quantities is legal in the Commonwealth, so long as it is neither possessed nor consumed upon the grounds of any public elementary or secondary school during school hours or student activities.