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Medical Marijuana and Workers’ Compensation

Medical Marijuana and Workers’ CompensationAs the opioid crisis remains at epidemic levels in the United States, many doctors are turning to prescribing medical marijuana as an alternative to addictive narcotics. Some studies suggest that marijuana can be as effective as opioids – or even more so –  in treating traumatic injuries. According to a 2017 study on cannabis as a substitute for opioid-based pain medication, 92% of respondents said that they preferred cannabis to opioids for the treatment of their condition and 93% agreed that they would be more likely to choose cannabis to treat their condition if it were more readily available.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 29 states, with more expected to follow suit in the near future. However, even as cannabis becomes a more mainstream treatment for work-related injuries, it remains illegal on a federal level. This gives some insurance carriers grounds to refuse to pay a workers’ comp claim if the injured worker is treating their injuries with doctor-prescribed marijuana products.

So Much for a Drug-Free Workplace?

Some states offer workers comp premium credits to employers as a reward for drug-free workplace policies. The aim is to reduce the number of employees who are working while impaired, which would, in turn, reduce the likelihood of substance-related injuries in the workplace. The legalization of medical marijuana complicates the ability for employers in some states to implement such policies, and in some states – including Illinois, Arizona, and Delaware – laws explicitly restrict employers from firing employees who use medical marijuana unless they are shown to be impaired on the job. That burden of proof, of course, falls on the employer, and with no reliable way for them to prove whether an employee is high at work, some employers have taken to dropping marijuana from their drug testing panel altogether.

What Does This Mean for Workers’ Comp?

At the moment, only five states officially require insurers to pay workers comp claims involving medical marijuana. New Mexico was the first state, followed by Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota and New Jersey. On the other hand, a few states such as Florida and North Dakota have passed laws stating that medical marijuana is not reimbursable for workers compensation. Workers’ compensation insurers in other states continue to reimburse for medical marijuana on a voluntary basis only and may refuse to pay for treatment involving medical marijuana unless courts tell them otherwise. The true impact of legal medical marijuana on workers compensation remains to be seen for now. For the time being, it seems that this issue continues to be left up to each individual state to address, so agents who work with clients in multiple states have their work cut out for them.

About ASIA Workers’ Compensation

Associated Specialty Insurance Agency, Inc. has been “The Workers’ Compensation Specialist for Brokers and Agents” for the past two decades and is committed to providing brokers and insurance agents across the East Coast with expertise and services to develop a Workers’ Compensation policy. For more information about how we can assist you with claims management, anti-fraud measures, and more call (610) 543-5510 to speak with one of our professionals.

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