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Risk in Context

State Courts Target Medical Marijuana Use in Workers’ Compensation Claims

Posted by Christine Williams April 28, 2015

Courts in New Mexico and Ohio are the latest to weigh in on the interplay between medical marijuana and workers’ compensation claims. The first ruling addressed marijuana as a form of medical treatment; the second covered whether testing positive for marijuana use could be grounds for denying a claim.

Medical Treatment

In Miguel Maez v. Riley Industrial and Chartis, the New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned a workers’ compensation judge’s ruling, which had said that that an employer did not have to pay for the purchase of medical marijuana by an injured employee. Although the worker had been certified for the state’s medical marijuana program by the claim’s authorized provider, the lower court judge ruled this did not constitute a “prescription” and that marijuana did not qualify as “reasonable and necessary” care. The appeals court, however, concluded that certification for the medical marijuana program “is the functional equivalent of a prescription” and that its inclusion in the treatment plan suggested it was reasonable and necessary. This follows an earlier, similar ruling by the appeals court in Vialpando v. Ben’s Automotive Services.

The new ruling would appear to solidify arguments in favor of medical marijuana as a reimbursable medical expense for injured workers in New Mexico.

Drug Tests

In Trent v. Stark Metal Sales, Inc., Ohio’s 5th Appellate District Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision that an employee was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits despite testing positive for marijuana after an injury. The appeals court ruled that a lower court “did not abuse its discretion” in excluding evidence related to drug testing, and that such evidence did not demonstrate that the employee’s marijuana use “was the proximate cause of the accident.”

The ruling serves as a reminder that a positive drug test will not necessarily invalidate a workers’ compensation claim. However, employers can generally remain confident about maintaining workplace anti-drug policies — even as individual states legalize medical and recreational marijuana use.

Debate Will Continue

In early April, Arizona signed into law HB 2346, becoming the latest state to allow workers’ compensation insurers and self-insured employers to deny payments for medical marijuana. So how important are the New Mexico and Ohio rulings to the national workers’ compensation landscape? The jury is still out.

For more information, read Marijuana Legalization: Insurance and Risk Management Perspectives for Employers or join our May 6 webcast focusing on legal and regulatory developments in workers’ compensation.

Christine Williams