An injured worker’s doctor replaced his opioid prescription with medical marijuana. Why did a court rule that the worker can’t be reimbursed for medical weed?
John Nobles-Roark suffered a lumbar injury at work. His workers’ comp claim was accepted, and he had surgery for the condition.
He was able to return to work, but his condition deteriorated, and he was granted temporary total disability.
His employer filed three times with the Delaware Industrial Accident Board (IAB) to end benefits for Nobles-Roark, but the petitions were denied.
For over a decade, Nobles-Roark’s doctor treated his chronic pain with epidural injections, physical therapy and prescription medication, including muscle relaxers and opioids. The pain meds had harsh effects on Nobles-Roark’s stomach.
Medical marijuana an option?
Nobles-Roark began using recreational marijuana and found it helped his chronic pain. He talked to his doctor about a medical marijuana prescription. Believing he met the criteria, the doctor issued a physician’s certification for medical marijuana.
Nobles-Roark began using medical marijuana, and his doctor prescribed tapering Oxycodone dosages to wean him off the opioid.
In April 2019, Nobles-Roark filed to receive compensation for his medical marijuana.
His doctor testified in an IAB hearing that the medical marijuana treatment is reasonable and necessary as a replacement for the opioids previously prescribed.
The IAB also heard from a doctor who testified on behalf of the employer, who said Nobles-Roark wasn’t a good candidate for medical marijuana due to comorbidities including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.
The IAB denied the compensation request for medical marijuana. Nobles-Roark appealed to a state court.
Did comp or weed law apply?
The Delaware Superior Court recently upheld the IAB’s ruling.
Nobles-Roark argued the company doctor’s testimony was contrary to the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act which says, “studies show the therapeutic value of marijuana in treating a wide array of debilitating medical conditions.”
But the court said the question wasn’t whether Nobles-Roark could use medical marijuana, it was whether he would have to pay for it himself.
The IAB’s ruling was governed not by the marijuana law but by the Delaware workers’ comp statute which requires employers to pay for reasonable and necessary medicine connected to a workplace injury.
The court said in passing the medical marijuana law, the Delaware General Assembly didn’t find medical weed is reasonable and necessary to treat all patients.
The IAB gave more credit to the company’s doctor, and the court found no error with that.
Consequently, the denial to compensate Nobles-Roark for his medical marijuana purchases was upheld.
(John Nobles-Roark v. Back Burner, Superior Court of DE, No. N19A-11-001, 7/6/20)