CASEY: Do local government medical marijuana policies conflict with state law?

Rikki McConnell, 44, started working in the health care field as a paramedic many years ago. She then earned a college degree and, in 2014, became a nurse working under a doctor. Today, McConnell owns and operates Hybrid Clinic in Vinton.

She said most of her patients number more than 5,000 people seeking medical marijuana prescriptions.

It has been legal in Virginia since 2021, and McConnell has prescribed marijuana to many people. With a prescription, patients can legally purchase medical marijuana at the Virginia-authorized RISE dispensary on West Main Street in Salem.

Rikki McConnell, a licensed practical nurse, owns and operates Hybrid Clinic in Vinton, which prescribes medical marijuana. Some of her patients fear losing their jobs because of using medicinal marijuana, she said.

Courtesy of Rikki McConnell

But she noted that not all of McConnell’s patients are equal in the eyes of their employer’s personnel policies. Those vary widely and some have not kept up with more recent changes in state law. Among them are local government policies.

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The McConnells have had to fight on behalf of some patients, especially police officers and firefighters, who use medical marijuana off-duty, to treat anxiety, pain or medical conditions. other.

While there are legal standards and tests in place to determine intoxication, that is not the case with marijuana.

Although its effects can be detected through urine tests, those tests are useless in determining intoxication. The intoxicating effects of marijuana last for several hours. But its metabolites can be detected in urine days or weeks later, when the employee may be fully awake.

One of McConnell’s patients a few years ago was a Roanoke firefighter. After medical marijuana became legal, he tested positive for THC metabolites on a urine screen due to off-duty use. Even though he had a prescription for marijuana, he spent five months on paid administrative duty while Roanoke officials figured out how to solve the problem.

Capt. Duane Noel, president of the Roanoke Firefighters Association, said a small number of other Roanoke firefighters who later tested positive for regulatory marijuana metabolites were placed on duty. administration in a shorter period of time. All are back on duty now.

The policy the city of Roanoke finally adopted was a long process, Noel said.

The bottom line for Roanoke city employees is that those with medical marijuana prescriptions can take time off work without fear of losing their jobs, Noel said. But they are not allowed to use marijuana on the job or be under the influence of marijuana while at work.

Noel noted that firefighters cannot use medical marijuana within 10 hours of starting a shift.

The policy prohibits the use or possession of alcohol and/or controlled substances/drugs on the job, as well as being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, said Angelia Vernon, the city’s human resources director. Controlled drugs at work. .

As an employer, we comply with the law and make necessary reasonable accommodations for employees with valid cannabis cards, Vernon added, Our policy applies to all all staff.

The City of Roanoke changed the policy in August 2022, following the enactment of another state law in 2021. It is titled Employee Protection; Use cannabis oil as medicine. (The statute text clearly states that it applies to all forms of medical marijuana.)

That state law states: No employer shall discharge, discipline or discriminate against an employee because of the employee’s lawful use of cannabis oil pursuant to a valid certificate issued by the employee. practice level.

The only exception is employers in the defense industrial base to whom the law does not apply. The law also states that any employer may discipline an employee for any harm on the job resulting from marijuana use or marijuana possession while on duty.

Roanoke’s policy appears to be consistent with state law. So clearly there is a personnel policy at the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office. That was passed in 2014.

It prohibits sheriff Botetourt officers from using or detecting the presence of drugs in a person’s system. But it makes this exception: An employee may continue to work even while using a legal drug, if after consultation with medical personnel it is determined that the employee not pose a threat to one’s own safety or the safety of co-workers and that the employee’s work performance will not be affected by legal drugs. If not, the employee may be required to take leave or take other appropriate action.

Roanoke County’s general policy, which includes the county’s police and sheriff, has been subject to somewhat less scrutiny, citing three federal laws.

The District will fully comply with the requirements of the Drug-Free Workplace Act, the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, the Omnibus Transportation Employee Inspection Act of 1991, and any applicable laws other related to controlled substances in the workplace. The District will conduct drug testing of employees if it is determined that there is reasonable cause for drug/alcohol testing and it is necessary to determine whether the employee is fit for duty.

Roanoke County Fire and Rescue’s policy is more specific but not necessarily less confusing.

It specifically prohibits the possession, use or being under the influence of medical marijuana while on duty. But it then noted that the legal possession or use of prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs would be excluded from this ban. That seems contradictory.

McConnell said some of her patients who work for the city of Salem are afraid of losing their jobs because of legal medical marijuana use.

Mike Stevens, Salems’ public information officer, forwarded me two employee drug and alcohol policies.

One, last modified in 2018, is nine pages long and mentions Salem police. The other, approved in 2005, is 41 pages long and applies to 164 different listed job categories in Salem, from low-level positions such as clock readers to assistant chefs to managers. part. Salem employees are subject to random testing.

Police department policy prohibits the on- or off-duty use of any controlled substance that has no medicinal effect and is classified as a scheduled drug under U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency guidelines.

Although Virginia and more than 30 other states have recognized the medical use of marijuana, marijuana remains a scheduled drug and has no medical use under federal law.

Perhaps the best way to describe the current policy, Stevens said, is to say it is a zero-tolerance policy on randomized testing. He added that Stevens himself was randomly tested because he drove a city car to work.

Betty McBride, president of the Salem Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 3478, said they were implementing the policy that in 2005, marijuana use was illegal at the time. And Salem’s current policies are difficult to interpret because they are like reading text obscured by mud, McBride added.

Stevens added that Salem is currently working with a consultant to review those policies and potentially revise them.

McConnell said she’s heard that for years. She previously sought to resolve the issue with the Salem City Council. But she was not authorized to register to speak, McConnell said. That’s because the council’s meeting guidelines limit public speakers to Salem residents or owners of businesses in the city.

Stevens said McConnell is free to contact each city council member; Their phone numbers are published on the Salems website.

When and if she does, McConnell said she should remember to remind them that they allowed the area’s only medical marijuana dispensary to open in Salem two years ago.

They located a dispensary in their city and did not allow their employees to consume, McConnell said.

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