On Trend: Impact of Medical Marijuana on Workers Compensation

On Trend Impact of Medical Marijuana on Workers Compensation

On Trend: Impact of Medical Marijuana on Workers Compensation

Medical marijuana today is legal in the District of Colombia and 21 states where Americans can walk into a dispensary and purchase pot for a variety of ailments. Moreover, twelve more states are considering measures to allow medicinal marijuana while nine states are looking at ballot measures and legislation to legalize recreational pot. In fact, states such as Colorado and Washington have already taken marijuana legalization even further. Colorado became the first state to legalize pot for recreational use in 2012 for adults 21 and older, with the commercial sale of marijuana beginning earlier this year. Under state law, Colorado residents may legally buy up to one ounce of marijuana in a transaction, which sells for an average of $65 per ounce.

There is a great deal of debate and uncertainty around this issue, with increasingly more Americans supporting legalization of marijuana. One of the issues that have come to the forefront is the impact off medical marijuana on the workplace and on Worker’s Compensation specifically. In fact, the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. (NCCI) highlighted medical marijuana as one of the top emerging workers comp issues to watch in 2014, with Worker’s Comp insurance carriers already getting an increasing number of requests to pay for prescribed marijuana.

In a paper published by the NCCI, “High Times in Worker’s Comp: The Impact of Medical Marijuana”, there are several issues at play including conflicts between federal and state laws, lack of definitive medical evidence of the effectiveness of marijuana, and the risks posed to overall workplace safety. Some experts feel that the lack of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a federal law banning its use would preclude most Worker’s Comp insurers from paying for marijuana as a treatment for injured workers. Others in the industry disagree and feel that the federal law isn’t enough to stop more marijuana claims from creeping into the Worker’s Comp market.

For example, Oregon law, which is typical of other states, says that nothing in the Medical Marijuana Act shall be interpreted to mean that a government medical assistance program or private insurer is to reimburse a person for costs associated with medical use of marijuana. However, in New Mexico, the Worker’s Comp system requires a patient registry ID card, supervision and monitoring, and caregiver and practitioner licensing for the drug to be compensable. We must note, though, that in cases where workers comp boards or judges have ordered payers to fund medical marijuana, most have been overturned.

There is also the question of whether a work-related injury found to be as a result of legally taking a controlled substance would be a compensable accident.  Some states say since it’s a controlled substance that is illegal regardless of state law, and if an employer can prove marijuana is the cause of a workplace accident, it would be non-compensable. Other states, however, take a different approach and say that “as long as it is a lawful medication prescribed or recommended by a licensed healthcare provider, you were, therefore, legally entitled to take it, and even if it were a cause of the accident, it would be compensable,” according to the NCCI “High Times” publication.

The issue of marijuana and Worker’s Compensation, as you can see, is clouded in uncertainty and will continue to play out as use of the drug for medicinal purposes is legalized in increasingly more states. At Caitlin Morgan, we will continue to look at this issue and others affecting the Worker’s Compensation market. We specialize in providing Worker’s Comp insurance solutions for insureds and will be happy to discuss a plan that meets their needs. Just give us a call at: 877.226.1027.