Massachusetts Court Issues Opinion Declaring that Medical Marijuana Treatments are Not Available in a Workers’ Compensation Claim

Medical marijuana is legal in many states, including Massachusetts. This has created novel legal issues for the workers’ compensation system when it comes to whether an insurer is required to compensate an employee who obtains medical marijuana in order to treat his or her work-related injuries. As dedicated Boston work injury attorneys, we are well-versed in these issues and ready to help you fight for the fair outcome that you deserve after suffering an on-the-job accident.

In a recent case, a Massachusetts appellate court addressed the relationship between the Controlled Substances Act and the Massachusetts Act for the Humanitarian Use of Marijuana. Based on the facts presented in the underlying claim, the court held that when an injured worker requests that an administrative judge require an insurer to reimburse the employee for medical marijuana treatments, the Controlled Substance Act preempts the state law and prohibits the administrative law judge from issuing such an order.

In the underlying claim, the permanently and totally disabled employee sought medical expenses reimbursement for the cost of medical marijuana. The presiding administrative judge denied the claim and the employee appealed. Both parties agreed that the employee experienced a positive benefit from the use of medical marijuana to treat his chronic knee pain.

The appellate court agreed with the insurer that the federal Controlled Substance Act preempted the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation laws. The CSA makes it unlawful to possess, manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance. Marijuana is listed among the various narcotics that are subject to the CSA’s laws.

Next, the appellate court reviewed cases from other jurisdictions that had reached different conclusions on whether insurers can approve and ultimately pay for medical marijuana treatments.

The insurer also noted and the appellate court acknowledged that its headquarters are located in another state, Ohio and that authorizing the payments would result in interstate commerce subjecting the transaction to federal regulation. Any transaction or commercial activity that occurs across state lines invokes federal regulation as opposed to transactions that happen exclusively within a state’s borders.

Ultimately, it upheld the administrative judge’s denial of reimbursement based on the fact that the CSA “clearly and manifestly criminalizes” the sale, distribution, and use of marijuana. It also determined that the Massachusetts rules would not provide the insurers with a safe harbor should they approve the payments. The appellate court indicated that if the federal government removes marijuana from the CSA, then insurers would potentially be able to approve payments to disabled workers for medical marijuana treatments.

If you were hurt at work and are seeking alternative treatments as part of your recovery, we can assist you in determining the best course of action to pursue a workers’ compensation claim. The system is complex and it can be especially challenging where the injured worker is overwhelmed by the pain and inconvenience of the injury. Our team of trial attorneys will aid you in every step of the claims process, including gathering evidence and ensuring that you receive the maximum amount of benefits and medical expenses reimbursements that you deserve. Call us now at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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