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  • Christopher D.

Virginia Governor Signs Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients' Jobs


In a move hailed by marijuana advocates, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has signed legislation prohibiting public employers in the state from discriminating against workers solely for their legal medical marijuana use.


The new law, which takes effect July 1, 2024, closes a loophole in Virginia's existing medical marijuana employment protections that previously excluded public sector workers like firefighters, teachers and civil servants. It ensures those employees can no longer be disciplined or denied jobs just for being certified medical marijuana patients.


"This is a long overdue victory for Virginia's public safety heroes and civil servants," said JM Pedini, Executive Director of Virginia NORML. "They deserve the same legal rights as private employees to legally treat their medical conditions with marijuana without fear of repercussions at work."


NORML and other advocates had championed the proposal for three years before the Republican governor's approval, emphasizing the need to safeguard jobs for public employees following doctors' treatment recommendations. Virginia first legalized medical marijuana in 2020.


Why Legal Protections for Patients Matter

For the estimated 50,000 Virginians currently enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program, the new workplace protections provide invaluable peace of mind. Marijuana offers a safer alternative therapy for patients suffering from cancer, PTSD, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and other qualifying conditions.


However, the lingering stigma surrounding marijuana can still threaten the jobs and livelihoods of employees legally using medical marijuana products prescribed by their physicians. Even in states with legal protections, patients frequently face discrimination or unfair disciplinary action solely due to their off-duty medical marijuana use.


"Medical cannabis helps me manage my PTSD symptoms so I can be successful at work and engaged with my family," said Sarah Johnson, a teacher in Arlington County and a registered medical marijuana patient. "But there was always the worry that if my status was discovered, I could lose the career I've worked so hard for. This new law finally provides reassurance."


Virginia's law now mirrors similar statutes in dozens of other medical marijuana states that have moved to prohibit employment discrimination against marijuana patients who legally follow their physician's advice and consume responsibly on their own time.   


Importance of Maintaining Medical Status During Transition

While Virginia's legislation marked a positive step for patients' rights, marijuana policy reform in the Commonwealth remains very much a work in progress. The law continues to evolve in a piecemeal fashion as lawmakers wrangle over the complex issue.


In April, Governor Youngkin vetoed separate bills that would have launched a regulated adult-use marijuana market and provided resentencing relief for prior marijuana convictions. While personal possession and home cultivation are now legal, establishing a licensed commercial marijuana industry still faces major political obstacles in Virginia.


That contentious dynamic underscores why maintaining medical marijuana status remains critical for patients in the near-term, even as the state weighs full legalization. "As much progress as we're seeing, the reality is Virginia won't have an adult-use cannabis market open for several years at the earliest," explained Dr. Kimberly Cram, a Richmond-based physician who helps certify patients for the state's medical program. "To ensure legal access to their treatment without interruption,patients should absolutely keep their medical marijuana cards updated and active."


More Than Just Legal Access  

Beyond personal possession and purchasing rights, marijuana advocates note that medical cards provide several other key advantages and protections for certified patients. Those legal benefits could remain in place even if full adult-use legalization eventually does pass in Virginia:


  • Employment Protections: In addition to the new public employee statute, medical card holders will have documented legal rights prohibiting discrimination from any employer.

  • Parental Rights Safeguards: Current law prevents a parent's medical marijuana use alone from being used as grounds for denying custody or visitation rights of their children.  

  • State Tax Exemptions: Medical marijuana purchases from licensed dispensaries remain exempt from any future state-level marijuana taxes implemented for adult consumers.

  • Out-of-State Travel Rights: Certified patients can legally transport limited amounts of medical marijuana across state lines in accordance with other states' reciprocity policies.


"While an exciting prospect, moving to legalize adult-use sales in Virginia will involve a lot of regulatory complexities to sort through," said Dr. Cram. "In the interim years, I'm advising my patients to simply maintain their spots in the established medical marijuana program for seamless stability."


Continued Advocacy Ahead  

With the workplace protections now secured, advocates in Virginia say their ongoing policy efforts will focus on several key areas:


  • Expanding the List of Qualifying Medical Conditions: Currently just over 20 conditions like cancer and epilepsy are covered, with patients and physicians unable to deviate.  

  • Allowing Access to Herbal Marijuana Flower: While permitted in most other medical states, the current banned form is believed to be more affordable and effective for many patients.

  • Instituting New Adult-Use Legalization Framework: Fresh legislation will likely be required after Governor Youngkin's veto to establish the licensing and regulations for commercial marijuana operations.


"Our work is truly just beginning here, but this law is an encouraging milestone that gives hope for further progress ahead," said Pedini. "Virginians are ready to keep taking these reasonable, responsible steps."


Whether for public employees, medical patients or the general public, maintaining modern and sensible marijuana policies will remain an evolving priority in the Commonwealth. But thanks to the latest legislation signed into law, some key legal protections are falling into place.


Get Your Medical Marijuana Card Today

Lucky for you, medical marijuana is already available in Virginia! You can get your medical marijuana card and access dispensaries today if you have a qualifying condition.


Recreational marijuana is legal in Virginia, but it does not mean much since there are no recreational dispensaries to purchase products from.


There are also countless benefits to having your medical card in a recreational state! You will save money on taxes and marijuana products and enjoy higher possession and purchase limits if you have your medical card in Virginia!


In order to qualify for your medical marijuana card, you will need to have a condition that would make you eligible. If you aren’t sure if you would qualify, give us a call and we can answer any questions you may have about the process.


If you don’t already have your card, no worries. We can help! If you think you could benefit from medical marijuana, there is a good chance you would qualify for your medical card in the State of Virginia. With telemedicine, it is now easier than ever to get your medical card from the comfort of your own home!


In Virginia, any inhibiting condition could qualify you for your medical card. If you don’t already have it, we can help! Schedule an evaluation online today and we’ll make an appointment for you with one of our knowledgeable, compassionate doctors.

 


 

Doctors Who Care.

Relief You Can Trust.


At Virginia Marijuana Card, our mission is helping everyone achieve wellness

safely and conveniently through increased access to MMJ. Our focus on

education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce the stigma for our patients by

providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.


Call us at (888) 633-5808, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

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