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Maine Supreme Court says workers’ comp doesn’t have to pay for medical marijuana

For a while, it seemed states were slowly accepting that medical marijuana would be covered under workers’ compensation. But a Maine court decision goes against that trend. 

Maine’s Supreme Court has ruled that Twin Rivers Paper Co. LLC doesn’t have to pay for former employee Gaetan Bourgoin’s medical marijuana under workers’ comp. Twin Rivers is self-insured.

The Maine Workers’ Compensation Board had ordered Twin Rivers to pay for Bourgoin’s medical marijuana, which it has been doing up to now.

The state’s highest court noted this was the first time it was asked to consider the relationship between the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act (MMUMA).

The court concluded:

“So long as marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the CSA, an employer that is ordered to compensate an employee for medical marijuana costs is thereby required to commit a federal crime defined by the CSA.”

The CSA preempts the MMUMA in the narrow circumstances of this case – when the Maine law is used to require an employer to reimburse an employee for the cost of medical marijuana. The court noted this wasn’t a ruling on MMUMA overall.

It’s also important to note that the court didn’t prohibit insurers or self-insured companies from reimbursing employees for medical marijuana. The ruling only gives employers the option to reject reimbursement under workers’ comp for medical pot.

Two justices dissented. In their opinion, CSA doesn’t preempt MMUMA.

Prescribed instead of opioids

Bourgoin suffered a work-related back injury at Twin Rivers and has received total incapacity benefits ever since. He had suffered from pain and muscle spasms in his back, legs, arms and chest.

Over the years, Bourgoin has gone through many different pain treatments, including opioids. Bourgoin developed dependence on the meds, suffered side effects from them, and was admitted to a psychiatric facility for chronic pain with insomnia and suicidal thoughts.

After the hospitalization, his general practitioner recommended a medical marijuana trial. Bourgoin has been using medical pot for his pain since then. He says his quality of life has improved, he has significantly less pain and he sleeps better. He no longer takes opioids.

Bourgoin’s lawyer tells the Portland Press Herald that the medical marijuana cost $400 a month. The opioids he was on previously would cost six times more.

Six other states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York – have accepted marijuana coverage under workers’ comp.

(Gaetan H. Bourgoin v. Twin Rivers Paper Company, LLC, Maine Supreme Judicial Court, No. WCB-16-433, 6/14/18)

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