The Massachusetts Legislature legalized medical marijuana in the Commonwealth by enacting the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana Act of 2012. Massachusetts become one of 22 other states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia to allow health care providers to recommend medical marijuana for their patients, and to allow patients to obtain this product from dispensaries licensed and regulated by the state.
Many physicians see medical marijuana as a desirable option for their patients with severe pain, offering pain relief as effective as opiates with less danger of overdose or addiction. The response from employers and insurance companies is less favorable. Workers’ compensation insurers throughout the United States are viewing with alarm the increasing number of states legalizing medical marijuana. Many organizations are advising employers and insurers to decline to pay for or reimburse employees for the cost of medical marijuana, even when it is recommended by a health care provider for relief of severe pain from a work-related injury.
The primary justification for this refusal is federal law. Under 21 U.S.C. §§ 812, 822, 823(f), the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, illegal to use or possess except in federally approved research, but not medical use. However, the United States Justice Department has stated that medical use of marijuana is not one of the areas where it prioritizes enforcement, instead deferring to state and local laws.
The issue of the compensability of medical marijuana under workers’ compensation laws has not yet been litigated in Massachusetts. There has been a case in New Mexico, however. A court of appeals, in the case of Gregory Vialpando v. Ben’s Automotive Services and Redwood Fire & Casualty, ordered an employer to reimburse an employee for the cost of medical marijuana as treatment for pain due to a work injury.
For more information about the workers’ compensation process, contact a Boston workers’ compensation attorney from Pulgini & Norton to schedule a free consultation to find out more about what our lawyers can accomplish for you. Contact us with a brief description of your situation or reach us by phone at our Downtown Boston, Hyde Park, or Braintree, Massachusetts office locations.
Pain Management and Workers’ Compensation, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, April 23, 2014
The Top Five Most Expensive Workers’ Compensation Claims, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, March 26, 2014