Workers’ Compensation and Medical Marijuana

Healthcare is a major industry in the United States, and advances are frequently made in medical technology, genetics, and pharmaceuticals.  Medical Marijuana is one area where there have been many recent advancements.  These advancements include not only medically and understanding how marijuana can help treatment a variety of conditions, but also in the law.  When an employee sustains a work-related injury, he or she may be prescribed medical marijuana to address their injury.  As an employer, it is important for you to understand how medical marijuana fits in the workers’ compensation system.

California Labor Code section 4600 states that any treatment that is reasonably required to cure an injury or relieve the employee from the effects of the injury will be covered under workers’ compensation.  The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board has determined that this can include medical marijuana.  Naturally, a worker must receive prescription from a doctor for the costs to be covered.  Moreover, if the treatment plan includes medical marijuana, the plan is subject to independent medical review and utilization review to make sure that independent providers agree the marijuana is medically necessary to address the work related injury.

There are some other important issues to be aware of.  First, although California has passed law legalizing the use of medical marijuana, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  Although these federal laws are not typically enforced in terms of medical marijuana dispensaries, this does not change the fact that the possession and sale of marijuana – even for medical use – remains illegal  under federal law.

In addition, just because an employee is using medical marijuana, that does not mean he or she is not subject to certain restrictions.  Just as an employee taking prescribed opiates may not be a suitable person to continue to operate heavy machinery, an employee may not be able to use medical marijuana during the work day.  Employers also need to keep in mind that there are rules about when an employer can require drug testing.  In addition, firing an employee for testing positive for medical marijuana can run afoul of regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We have extensive experience with the workers’ compensation system and explaining an employer’s rights and responsibilities.  Contact us today for a consultation.

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