Another state supreme court has weighed in on whether workers’ compensation insurance has to pay for medical marijuana. Despite its ruling, the court writes that aspects of this issue aren’t entirely clear.
Daniel Wright suffered work-related injuries in 2010 and 2012. He sought $24,267 from workers’ comp for medical marijuana to treat chronic pain from his injuries.
An administrative law judge in Massachusetts denied Wright’s claim. The state’s Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) upheld the ruling.
The DIA concluded Wright couldn’t be reimbursed because marijuana is still a federally illicit substance despite state laws allowing medical cannabis prescriptions.
‘A hazy thicket’
The Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the denial of Wright’s claim for a somewhat different reason.
The state’s highest court noted that Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law clearly states “nothing in this law requires any health insurance provider, or any government agency or authority, to reimburse any person for the expenses of the medical use of marijuana.”
The state’s workers’ comp law, which requires reimbursement for medical expenses due to work-related injuries, doesn’t override the medical marijuana law, according to the court.
“It is one thing for a State statute to authorize those who want to use medical marijuana, or provide a patient with a written certification for medical marijuana, to do so and assume the potential risk of Federal prosecution,” the court said. “It is quite another for it to require unwilling third parties to pay for such use and risk such prosecution.”
But, it’s worth noting what Massachusetts’ highest court had to say about the whole matter of medical marijuana in its opinion.
“We recognize the current legal landscape of medical marijuana law may, at best, be described as a hazy thicket,” the court wrote in its opinion of Wright’s case.
“The [U.S.] Department of Justice has issued, revised, and revoked memoranda explaining its marijuana enforcement practices and priorities, leaving in place no clear guidance,” the court said.
In fact, state laws and courts have split on this issue, making it difficult to navigate the medical marijuana issue when it comes to injured employees and workers’ comp. Some states require workers’ comp to reimburse injured employees for the drug.
Complicating the issue more is when employees note that using medical marijuana allows them to avoid opioids.
Wright testified he was able to stop using opioids because of his medical marijuana use.
(Daniel Wright’s Case, MA Supreme Judicial Court, SJC-12873, 10/27/20)