Medical Marijuana in Workers’ Compensation: Questions Posed by Insurers, Litigators, and Employers

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Medical Marijuana in Workers' Compensation

The legalization of medical marijuana (cannabis sativa) has created some major grey areas in relation to dealing with workers’ compensation claims. Employers and insurers alike experience conflict and uncertainty when faced with workers’ compensation claims in which an employee is injured on the job and the doctor’s recommended treatment is medical marijuana. Should insurers be required to compensate employees injured on the job for the medical marijuana they purchase on their own?

Here are some reasons medical marijuana in workers’ compensation is different than typical workers’ compensation claims:

1. While medical marijuana is legal in many states, the use of marijuana is in violation of federal law. In fact, marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 drug under the United States Controlled Substances Act. This begs the question, if insurance companies reimburse employees for medical marijuana, are they violating federal law?

2. Many medical-legal professionals remind us that the principle of workers’ compensation is to get employees well so they can return to work. If an injured employee is treating pain with medical marijuana, will he or she be able to return to work in an intoxicated state? Will it pose risks in the workplace by endangering others, especially in a workplace that operates machinery?

3. There is no standardized procedure in place for issuing marijuana prescriptions. Patients are issued a medical marijuana card, which allows them to go to a dispensary and purchase any cannabis products within the legal limit. However, those standards are not necessarily established by medical guidelines, and there is no standardized means of pharmaceutical quality control. Furthermore, because marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, it is not assigned a National Drug Code (NDC), so purchases cannot be electronically adjudicated. Insurance companies ask, if we reimburse, how do we know what we are paying for? What is the standardized process for quantifying the dose of THC and/or CBD used for medical treatment?

Earlier this week, Mednick Associates sponsored the CLM Medical Legal Summit in Chicago, where we attended the Medical Marijuana in Workers’ Compensation presentation. A panel of medical-legal experts discussed this controversial topic and the questions it poses for industry professionals. According to this medical-legal panel, the answers to all of the previously mentioned questions are unclear, and they will only be answered in time with further research and regulation. For now, the panel recommends that insurance companies and legal professionals be proactive. This includes remaining aware of each state’s marijuana laws and the outcome of legal battles dealing with the issue of medical marijuana in workers’ compensation as they arise.