Medical marijuana is becoming more and more common across the United States, and California is no exception. Supporters of medical marijuana proclaim its effectiveness against diseases and chronic pain, and some studies support these claims. Some workers who have sustained work-related injuries are seeking treatment that may include medical marijuana. The use of medical marijuana as a treatment for work-related injuries and whether workers’ compensation covers this type of treatment is not yet resolved. Many states have come to different conclusions, and California does not yet have a definite answer.
In Cockrell v. Farmers Insurance, an injured worker had chronic pain from a work-related injury sustained while working at Farmers Insurance. The worker requested that his medical marijuana prescription, which was given to help deal with this pain, be covered by his workers’ compensation benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board held that California Health and Safety Code § 11362.7 protected Farmers Insurance from having to cover the medical marijuana. The WCAB based its ruling on the fact that the statute states that a health insurance provider is not liable for reimbursing for medical use of marijuana. However, the case was then sent back to the trial level to determine if a workers’ compensation carrier is a health insurance company, and whether it is accordingly exempt from covering medical marijuana claims.
Medical marijuana is further complicated by the fact that marijuana is illegal under federal law, and is classified as a Schedule I drug. An employer should therefore be cautious when an injured worker returns to work if he or she has a prescription for medical marijuana. It is difficult to determine whether a worker is “impaired” under the use of marijuana. While this could also be said of other pain relievers, such as opioids, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, an employer should be certain to take extra precautions to make sure all workers are safe. Employers should also make sure to review their policies in place to make sure they are current with the latest in state and federal guidelines about the use of medical marijuana in the workplace and whether medical marijuana is covered under workers’ compensation claims.
If you have questions about medical marijuana and workers’ compensation, call me today at (714) 516-8188. This is an unresolved area of law and you need an experienced attorney working with you to protect your business.