Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and efforts to do the same throughout the rest of the country are charging along. However, according to the federal government, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 substance, making it illegal. With conflicting directives coming from the state and federal governments, most Workers’ Compensation funds are opting to deny coverage for medical marijuana treatment for work injuries.
For employers, physicians, and Workers’ Compensation insurance companies, there are several advantages and disadvantages to approving employee use of medical marijuana. Medical marijuana has proven to be a safe and effective alternative to highly-addictive opiates for treating chronic pain. However, the use of medical marijuana on the job could reduce alertness, reaction time, and balance, possibly leading to work accidents and injuries.
In some states, medical marijuana has been approved for use for injured employees. In New Mexico, the Court of Appeals ruled three times that medical marijuana must be covered by Workers’ Compensation. This approval came after physicians determined that traditional therapies were often ineffective in treating pain.
The line between legal and illegal use drug use becomes fuzzy when the state allows medical marijuana use while employers still consider it a Schedule 1 substance. In a few high-profile cases, employees have been terminated for failing drug tests when the medical marijuana they used was sanctioned by the state. Until state and federal laws are in sync, many Workers’ Compensation cases will be decided in court.
Legislation currently pending in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee may clear things up a bit. If the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act passes, it will give states the power to set marijuana policies. it will also reclassify marijuana as a drug with “Accepted Medical Use” making it no longer a Schedule 1 drug.
Until such legislation passes, and state and federal laws regarding medical marijuana align, Workers’ Compensation professionals need to stay on top of recent decisions and bills in their respective states. Public and political sentiment can provide clues as to the future of medical marijuana and how it will relate to Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Jeffrey S. Gross Advocates for Injured WorkersPhiladelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Gross tackle the most complex Workers’ Compensation cases. Call our Philadelphia office at 267-589-0090 or contact us online to get started today. Jeffrey S. Gross is certified as a Workers’ Compensation Law specialist by the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Section on Workers’ Compensation Law. His team serves clients throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.