Virginia Decriminalizes Marijuana, Preventing Employers From Inquiring About Past Convictions

Judge writing with files and gavel marijuana leaves

Governor Ralph Northam signed House Bill 972 on May 21, 2020, making Virginia the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana. The new law took effect July 1, reducing the penalty of a person caught with an ounce or less of marijuana to a $25 civil fine. Each year, new laws and changes to existing laws continue to occur, making it difficult for employers to keep up. With ever-growing changes, it’s vital that employers remain in-the-loop to maintain policies that abide by laws, while also keeping the workplace safe.

What Is the New Law?

In addition to the reduction in penalties, any violation will be charged by a summons, which appears the same as a standard summons for a motor vehicle law violation. No court costs will be assessed for these violations. If the violation occurs while the individual is driving, then it will be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles and included on their driving record.

The law also makes it a misdemeanor for employers to inquire about past convictions on job applications. Any past records relating to arrests, charges, and convictions for the possession of marijuana will be kept sealed, and new charges won’t be sent to the state’s Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE), which is mainly used by law enforcement. Although applicants won’t be required to disclose past convictions on applications, court records will still remain public, allowing employers and schools to obtain them.

What Does This Mean For Employers?

As laws continue to change by state, the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana are topics employers need to follow closely, especially those with employees in safety-sensitive positions. Although marijuana is still illegal in Virginia, lessened penalties and looser job application disclosure requirements might decrease an individual’s deterrence from possessing or using it in the first place. It’s vital that employers communicate efficiently with their employees to define company policies and procedures.

A clear and concise written drug testing policy will set workplace standards and expectations and prevent fines, fees, and potential lawsuits. Reasonable suspicion testing and training are often included in an employer’s comprehensive drug testing policy as an added level of protection after pre-employment testing to continue to deter employees from using. In states where marijuana is legal, establishing and implementing a Medical Disclosure Policy will ensure that employees notify you of prescriptions that could cause impairment while on the job, posing greater risks to the workplace.

What Can DISA Do?

As your trusted third-party administrator (TPA), DISA’s professionals can assist you with creating and maintaining sound employee screening policies. Helping to navigate through complex and everchanging background check laws, our experts will ensure that you maintain compliance, stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends in your industry, and implement best practices to keep your workplace and employees safe.

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About DISA Global Solutions

Founded in 1986, DISA is the industry-leading provider of employee screening and compliance services. Headquartered in Houston, with more than 35 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, DISA’s comprehensive scope of services includes drug and alcohol testing, background check, occupational health, and transportation compliance. DISA assists employers in making informed staffing decisions while building a culture of safety in their workplace.

DISA Global Solutions aims to provide accurate and informative content for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein. Always consult with a professional or legal expert.