Medical Marijuana Legalization Raises Workers Comp Questions

States with Legal Medical Marijuana Use Struggle to Understand Workers Comp Impact

medical marijuanaAlthough marijuana is still technically legal at the federal level, 20 states and Washington DC have passed laws allowing marijuana to be used for medical reasons (additionally, Washington State and Colorado allow recreational marijuana use). However, with marijuana dispensaries becoming more common, state regulators are now beginning to question whether medical marijuana should be covered under workers comp insurance.

“I think that most insurance companies have probably taken the position that medical marijuana has not been conclusively found to be an efficacious treatment,” said said Trey Gillespie, the senior workers’ compensation director for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. He added, however, that when that happens, “if the insurer says it will not pay, then the worker would be at risk for paying for it. In most jurisdictions, the carrier pays for treatment or nobody pays. There’s not supposed to be cost-shifting.”

According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, workers comp insurers already face many requests to cover medical marijuana use.

“Because so many states are approving it and the guidelines for use are so vague, it has the potential of becoming a very big deal and it is fraught with danger,” said Phil Walls, chief clinical and compliance officer at Matrix Healthcare Services Inc., a Tampa, Fla.-based pharmacy benefit manager.

Some states have taken this potential inundation into account. Vermont and Montana, which have both legalized medical marijuana, disallow workers comp coverage for the drug. New Mexico, on the other hand, requires a patient registry identification card, supervision and monitoring, and caregiver and practitioner licensing in the Workers’ Comp system, so medical marijuana could be covered if specifically prescribed.

However, medical marijuana could still cause accidents on the job, if an employee returns to work while intoxicated on the drug. “Just because you’re taking medical marijuana for medical use doesn’t means it’s safe to use on your job,” Gillespie said.

Some employers allow workers comp filings for injuries that occurred on the job while an employee was intoxicated. These allowances have become highly scrutinized in recent months, however, because it is much more difficult to determine whether the employee injured themselves due to their alcohol or drug intoxication, or if the injury was in fact caused by unsafe working conditions.

Most work places do not allow employees to work while intoxicated, and can fire an employee for being intoxicated on the job. Workers comp litigation has, so far, been ruled in favor of the employer in cases where an employee was high or drunk on the job.

However, medical marijuana focuses on the therapeutic properties of the drug. Cultivators even focus on strains that are low in THC, and therefore will not cause the euphoric effects that recreational marijuana users seek out. If medical marijuana use focuses on these cultivars rather than recreational abuse of the drug, then prescription medical marijuana could be covered by workers comp insurance in the future, because employees are not a danger to themselves on the job.

The Strom Law Firm Understands Worker’s Comp Legislation

The workers comp lawyers at The Strom Law Firm, LLC proudly seek justice on behalf of employees injured or killed on the job who work for private companies, as well as employees working for local county, city, and state government. We are licensed to practice throughout South Carolina, as well as Georgia and New York. If you are confused about worker’s comp laws, or have had your worker’s comp claim denied, contact us. We offer free consultations to discuss the facts of your case. 803.252.4800.