How Medical Marijuana Affects Workers’ Compensation

Medical marijuana is a topic in workers’ compensation discussions across the country because the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has become legal in state after state.

In 2010, New Jersey legalized the use of marijuana to treat “a very limited number of conditions and injuries” including:

  • Lou Gehrig’s disease;
  • Multiple sclerosis;
  • Terminal cancer;
  • Muscular dystrophy;
  • Inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease; as well as,
  • Terminal illnesses with a prognosis of less than a year.

Furthermore, a number of conditions qualify for medical marijuana use when traditional methods to treat them have failed. These conditions include:

  • Epilepsy and other seizure disorders;
  • Intractable skeletal, muscular spasticity;
  • Glaucoma;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder; as well as,
  • HIV, AIDS, and cancer resulting in severe and chronic pain, vomiting, nausea, and wasting syndrome.

Since New Jersey legalized medical marijuana, it has become a big issue for the workers’ compensation system because health care providers and patients are pushing for medical marijuana to be covered under workers’ compensation medical benefits.

However, the possession, purchase, sale, and distribution of all forms of marijuana, including medical marijuana, are still illegal under federal law. This means that workers’ compensation insurance providers cannot lawfully pay for medical marijuana as a part of workers’ compensation benefits without being in potential violation of federal law.

For this reason, state law does not require employers or insurers to cover the cost of medical marijuana under workers’ compensation. This leaves workers’ compensation payers stuck in the middle, trying to decide between following the recommendations of New Jersey health care providers by paying for medical marijuana and federal law where it remains illegal.

What Does This Mean For You?

The use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in New Jersey, but not legal under federal law. This essentially means three things for you:

  1. While it may be legal to obtain a prescription to use marijuana to treat an injury or illness, most New Jersey workers’ compensation payers will deny any request for pre-approval or payment of a prescription for medical marijuana, unless ordered to do so by a court. If the matter is litigated, the defense will rest on the federal illegality of marijuana use for any and all purposes.
  1. If you get hurt on the job and they find marijuana in your system, they can reduce or deny your workers’ compensation benefits, unless you are able to prove that although you had marijuana in your system, it had nothing to do with the you being injured.

For example, if you are sitting at a stoplight and you are hit from behind by another vehicle, they may find marijuana in your system and deny your benefits, but you may be able to go to court and prove that having marijuana in your system did not, in any way, cause or facilitate the accident and your resulting injuries.

  1. If marijuana shows up in a blood test that you take and your employer has a policy against drug use, you can be terminated for using marijuana because it violates federal law. Marijuana, more than most drugs, lingers in your system and can show up on a blood test weeks after you used it.

For more detailed information regarding workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey, contact an experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer who can help you receive the benefits you are entitled to under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system.

Articles featured on this website are not to be considered official legal advice. Please consult an attorney and conduct additional research before making legal decisions.

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