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Richmond City Council Weighs Ending Marijuana Testing For City Employees

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Employees in public safety positions, including firemen and police officers, would still be tested for marijuana under the proposal. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

A Richmond City Council member wants the city to exclude marijuana from its drug testing policy.

Fifth District City Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch introduced a resolution calling on Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration to stop testing for marijuana in pre-employment drug screenings and random testing of employees. Lynch said this would bring the city in line with the General Assembly, which voted to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana starting July 1st.

“As a forward-looking and progressive city, we need to adapt and change with the times, as policy has,” Lynch said.

Employees in public safety positions, including firemen and police officers, would still be tested for marijuana under the proposal. The resolution also does not call for an end to testing of employees who are suspected of using marijuana while at work. 

Lynch said ending testing for marijuana use will also help to attract and retain employees.

“In an environment where we are in such shortage of good employees, in my mind, it doesn’t make sense to be terminating folks just for failing a marijuana test,” she said.

According to its Employment Policy, Chesterfield County employees are subject to a pre-employment drug screening. In Henrico County, anyone applying for a public safety role must undergo a drug screening.

Not everyone on the City Council is on board though. 

At a committee hearing on Thursday, Council Vice President Chris Hilbert said the new testing policy may conflict with the city charter, which says members of City Council and the Mayor forfeit their office if convicted of marijuana possession. 

“I’m worried that we have one standard for employees and another for the officers and members of the governing body of the city,” Hilbert said.

Despite his reservations, Hilbert voted along with Lynch and Councilwoman Kristen Larson to advance the resolution to the full council with a recommendation to approve it.

Jim Nolan, the spokesperson for Stoney’s office, said the mayor is supportive of the goals of the resolution and is forming a workgroup to lay out a plan for implementing it, if it passes. 

Some employees may still need to be tested for marijuana due to federal regulations. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that employees with a commercial driver license to operate work trucks must be subject to pre-employment and random drug screenings. Gas operations employees in Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities must also be tested under federal guidelines.

Nolan said the city is also exploring whether changes to its testing policy would affect its insurability or risk management. 

The resolution is expected to be up for a vote of the full City Council on Monday.