November 6, 2017
Now that medical marijuana is legal in many states, including Maine, they will need to consider if workers’ compensation covers the use of the drug. However, since marijuana is still illegal according to federal laws, the insurer might be held legally responsible in drug charges under the law.
The details of the case follow. A former Maine employee at a mill was hurt while working. Medical professionals prescribed medical marijuana due to a 1989 back injury. He was 29 at the time and was 58 in 2017 at the time of the workers’ comp claim. He previously used opioid-based medications, which gave him no relief.
In 2015, the state workers’ compensation board ordered the company’s insurance plan to cover the costs for the medical marijuana. While the opioid-based prescriptions cost over $2,000 monthly, the medical marijuana cost a fraction of that — between $350 and $400 monthly.
The insurer’s lawyers argued that marijuana is illegal per federal law, so they cannot be forced to pay for the drug. They cited fears of prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice. Additionally, the state statute says that no government agency can require reimbursement for any costs related to the use of medical marijuana.
However, the lawyer for the worker claims that since his client was injured on the job, he is entitled to any medicine as needed to aid in his recovery. As such, marijuana serves a medicinal purpose and falls under this category. New Mexico has tackled this issue as well and has determined that insurers must pay for medical marijuana in three separate cases since 2014.
With new laws enacting medical marijuana, the drug will likely be commonly prescribed in states across the nation. The states will need to resolve this conflict regarding the legality of marijuana use when it comes to reimbursement by insurers who cover workers’ compensation fees with the federal government. In the meantime, if you need to use medical marijuana, you might need a competent legal team to advise you of your right. Contact us for help with your case.