Virginia city to stop drug testing many potential employees as pot possession becomes legal

Around the South

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Starting next week, anyone looking to get a job with the City of Norfolk won’t have to worry about passing a drug test in many cases.

Starting July 1, the city will no longer require pre-employment testing for any employee not considered “safety-sensitive,” and won’t conduct random drug testing for those employees throughout the year.

The change coincides with a new state law that allows for a person at least 21 years old to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use.

Deputy City Manager Catheryn Whitesell briefed Norfolk City Council about the policy change Tuesday.

“I never thought I would be talking about marijuana to a City Council. So I guess this is the ‘high’ point of my career,” Whitesell quipped.

Whitesell explained currently all applicants are tested for having marijuana in their system prior to getting a job.

“Testing positive means you will not be offered a job by the city,” Whitesell said, and testing positive as part of random drug tests throughout the year will likely result in termination.

She said while the city will remain a drug-free workplace, with zero tolerance for possession on city property, the new law allowing for recreational usage made their current policy “dicey.”

Unlike testing for alcohol, where the amount in a person’s system can be determined, Whitesell said marijuana testing only tests for the presence, no matter how much is in a person’s system.

“Somebody could have celebrated their job offer 30 days ago, they come in for their drug screening and they probably lose their job immediately,” Whitesell said.

Whitesell said “safety-sensitive” jobs — such as law enforcement and anyone who operates city machinery — will still be tested prior to employment subject to random testing throughout the year.

Since January 2020, Whitesell reported that the city tested just under 1,100 applicants. Of those, 14 tested positive for marijuana.

In the same timeframe, 157 random drug tests have been performed and five tested positive for marijuana in their system.

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