Drug Law

Court Rules Workers Comp Must Cover Medical Marijuana

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

An injured worker who was prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor will be covered by worker’s compensation, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled.

Gregory Vialpando claims he experienced severe pain after failed spinal surgeries to fix a back injury he suffered on the job.

He met the threshold for payments under workers' compensation laws and his doctor recommended marijuana to manage his pain.

The appeals courts decision upheld a lower court ruling that found Vialpando’s participation in the New Mexico Department of Health's Medical Cannabis Program constituted reasonable and necessary medical care, which is the standard for reimbursement under the New Mexico Worker’s Compensation Act.

His employer at the time of the injury, Ben's Automotive Services, and its insurer Redwood Fire & Casualty argued that medical marijuana must be treated as a prescription drug and that the medical marijuana program isn’t a licensed pharmacist or health care provider.

The court ruled that "medical marijuana is not a prescription drug," and even if it were, "our analysis would lead to the same conclusion."

"Indeed, medical marijuana is a controlled substance and is a drug,” the court wrote. “Instead of a written order from a health care provider, it requires the functional equivalent of a prescription - certification to the program. Although it is not dispensed by a licensed pharmacist or health care provider, it is dispensed by a licensed producer through a program authorized by the Department of Health.”

The plaintiffs argued that reimbursing Vialpando would force them to commit a federal crime because marijuana is federally classified as a controlled substance.

"However, employer does not cite to any federal statute it would be forced to violate, and we will not search for such a statute," wrote the unanimous three-judge panel.

The court also rejected a claim that reimbursement would violate federal public policy.

"Although not dispositive,” the court said, “we note that the Department of Justice has recently offered what we view as equivocal statements about state laws allowing marijuana use for medical and even recreational purposes."

Sources: Courthouse News Service, Reuters

Image source: Flick Creative Commons / Michigan Municipal League