Medical Marijuana and Workers’ Compensation

Columbia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers weigh in on the use of medical marijuana while on Workers' Compensation. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will decide on whether Workers’ Compensation insurance covers the use of medical marijuana or if requiring coverage violates the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act. This ruling may impact how other states determine to handle medical marijuana and work injuries.

The case centers on a millworker who suffered a back injury on the job in 1989. At the time, he was 29 and working for what is now Twin Rivers Paper Co. Since then, he has tried different opioid based painkillers, but none proved to be effective. The prescription painkillers cost, on average, more than $2,000 a month, while the medical marijuana he uses is between $350 and $400 per month. Because of the side effects he suffered from opioid based painkillers, the plaintiff maintains that medical marijuana is both cheaper and safer. At one point, this worker’s dosage of narcotic painkillers was so high that there was concern about his oxygen levels at night, causing him to become suicidal.

The Debate on Medical Marijuana

In 2015, the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board said that the plaintiff should be reimbursed for medical marijuana expenses by Twin Rivers insurance administrator, Sedgwick Claims Management Services of Memphis. Instead of paying, Sedgwick and lawyers representing the mill, appealed the ruling. Although state law allows the use of medical marijuana, they argued that they could be prosecuted under federal law for reimbursing the purchase of illegal drugs.

Additionally, they cited the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act, which states that neither private health insurers or government medical assistance programs can be required to reimburse a person for the costs of using medical marijuana. The Twin Rivers attorney noted a lack of research on the effectiveness of medical marijuana and questioned its safety.

The plaintiff argued that  medical marijuana is a medicine and therefore covered by Maine’s Workers’ Compensation law. The law clearly states that employees who have been injured on the job may receive “reasonable and proper medical services, nursing, medicines, and mechanical, surgical aids, as needed, paid for by the employer.”

Justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Augusta questioned the attorney for Twin Rivers on whether she anticipated the federal government suing insurers who reimburse workers for medical marijuana. One justice pointed out that opioids are legal, but also the source of a nationwide epidemic of drug addiction, resulting in drug company lobbyists in Washington working to protect their status. He questioned whether marijuana should remain illegal under federal law while people in Maine are dying every day from opioid addiction.

How Other States Match Up

Maine is the latest state confronting the issue of Workers’ Compensation and medical marijuana reimbursement. Florida and North Dakota do not allow for reimbursement under laws that were passed this year. Since 2014, New Mexico’s state appellate court has already ruled three times in favor of plaintiffs seeking reimbursement. Other states that have allowed reimbursement under Workers’ Compensation are New Jersey, Connecticut, and Minnesota. Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Columbia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Fight for the Rights of Injured Workers

If you have been injured in a work-related accident, you are entitled to compensation for your injuries. At Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A., our experienced team will fight to make sure you receive the maximum possible compensation for your case. Call 866-881-8623 now to schedule a free consultation with a Columbia Workers’ Compensation lawyer from our firm. You can also contact us online. We have six convenient locations serving clients throughout South Carolina.  We serve clients in Lexington County, Richland County, Sumter County, Aiken County, Florence County, Lancaster County, York County, Orangeburg County, Kershaw County, and Newberry County, as well as the towns of Columbia, Lexington, Irmo, Chapin, Rock Hill, Aiken, Sumter, Newberry, Florence, and Spartanburg.