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Medical Marijuana in Workers’ Compensation Claims

In April 2016, Pennsylvania passed the Medical Marijuana Act (MMA). The MMA has had a substantial impact on other areas of law, including Workers’ Compensation. Despite the MMA being passed, marijuana remains illegal and continues to be listed as a Schedule I drug by the DEA. Concerns arise as to whether an employee prescribed medical marijuana can still obtain Workers’ Compensation benefits in the event of an injury. Other concerns arise as to whether medical marijuana will be covered as a treatment option to employees previously injured at work. It is likely claims involving these issues will be resolved on a case by case basis.

Challenges arise in obtaining Workers’ Compensation for an employee who already has a medical marijuana prescription and sustains a work-related injury. Employers will often require employees to undergo a drug test after being injured. The Workers’ Compensation Act states “that no compensation shall be paid when the injury or death is intentionally self-inflicted, or is caused by the employee’s violation of law, including, but not limited to, the illegal use of drugs…” Under this standard, if an employee were to fail a post injury drug test due to their medical marijuana prescription, the employer could bar compensation by establishing that the injury was a result of the employee’s intoxication. However, Section 2101 of the MMA states, “no employer may discharge, threaten, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee…solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.” This provision implements some protections for employees with medical marijuana prescriptions. While the provision creates protections, it does not preclude an employer from attempting to prove the injury was a result of the employee’s intoxication to inhibit the employee’s ability to gain compensation.

An employee that is injured at work and later prescribed medical marijuana may face other challenges. Section 2102 of the MMA states, “nothing in this act shall be construed to require an insurer or a health plan…to provide coverage for medical marijuana.” While this could be problematic for an employee attempting to gain coverage for medical marijuana, the employee can still establish that the prescription should be covered under Workers’ Compensation. The employee must prove several factors to obtain compensation for the prescribed medical marijuana. To succeed on such a claim, it must first be established that the prescription for medical marijuana is for a severe medical condition as defined under the MMA. The MMA lists seventeen (17) conditions, some of which are applicable to Workers’ Compensation, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, neuropathies, opioid use disorder for which conventional therapeutic interventions are ineffective, and severe chronic pain. Once it is established that the employee has a severe medical condition, the condition must then be causally-related to the work injury. Furthermore, it must be established that the treatment is reasonable and necessary. The forgoing factors can be determined through medical evidence, giving an employee the opportunity to gain coverage under Workers’ Compensation. The law continues to develop regarding medical marijuana providing more clarity into the MMA’s impact on Workers’ Compensation.

For further guidance, contact a skilled Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney with Rudberg Law Offices, LLC. Call us at 1.866.306.2667 or contact us at [email protected]