Virginia Passes Bills to Protect Medical Cannabis Patients from Employment Discrimination

House Bill 149 Extends Protections to Public Employees

Virginia legislators have recently approved two bills that would safeguard the employment rights of medical cannabis patients in the public sector. The bills, House Bill 149 and Senate Bill 391, aim to prevent employers from discriminating against employees who use medical cannabis with a valid certification from a practitioner.

House Bill 149 Extends Protections to Public Employees

House Bill 149, sponsored by Delegate Dan Helmer, amends the existing law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for their lawful use of cannabis products for medical purposes. The bill specifies that such use must conform to the laws of the Commonwealth and that such protections extend to the employees of the Commonwealth and other public bodies, such as teachers or police officers.

The bill passed with a vote of 78–20 in mid-February 2024. Helmer said that the bill was meant to fix the gap that left out the brave first responders from the previous legislation that he sponsored several years ago, which established protections for employees in the private sector.

Supporters of the bill testified that medical cannabis use had positive effects, such as reducing alcohol and opioid use, improving mental health, and alleviating chronic pain.

Senate Bill 391 Provides Similar Protections with an Exception

Senate Bill 391, sponsored by Senator David Marsden, provides similar protections for public employees who use medical cannabis, with the exception of law enforcement officers. The bill passed with a vote of 30–10 in mid-February 2024.

House Bill 149 Extends Protections to Public Employees

Marsden said that the bill was necessary to protect the rights of patients who rely on medical cannabis to treat their conditions, such as epilepsy, cancer, or PTSD. He said that the bill would not affect the employers’ ability to impose restrictions on cannabis use during work hours or to discipline employees for impairment.

Both bills are now in the House and Senate, respectively, for further consideration.

Virginia’s Medical Cannabis Program

Virginia legalized medical cannabis in 2015, but only for patients with intractable epilepsy who could obtain a certification from a practitioner to use cannabis oil with at least 15% CBD and no more than 5% THC. In 2018, the law was expanded to include any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner.

Patients seeking medical cannabis must register with the Board of Pharmacy and can only purchase their medication through the state’s program, which currently has five licensed dispensaries. The dispensaries offer a variety of products, such as oils, capsules, tinctures, sprays, lozenges, and gummies.

Virginia is also in the process of legalizing adult-use cannabis, after the General Assembly passed a bill in February 2024 that would allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate, and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers starting from January 1, 2025. The bill is awaiting the signature of Governor Ralph Northam, who has expressed his support for the measure.

By Amelia Brooks

Amelia Brooks is a seasoned senior content writer at CBD Strains Only, specializing in the cannabis niche. With a wealth of experience and a keen interest in the therapeutic properties of cannabis, Amelia brings a unique perspective to her writing. Her insightful articles aim to educate and inform readers about the latest trends and developments in the cannabis industry.

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