NM Court Upholds Decision that Employer Pays for Pot

| by Cassandra Cassillas

On Monday the New Mexico State Court of Appeals upheld the ruling that a company must pay for the medical marijuana of an employee who suffered a work-related back injury

Gregory Vialpando sustained a back injury in June of 2000 that resulted in a number of surgical procedures. According to court documents, in 2008 a Worker’s Compensation Judge (WCJ) determined he had “reached maximum medical improvement.” Doctors judged that he has a  “whole body impairment rating of 43 percent to 46 percent” and a “99 percent permanent partial disability.”

He applied and was approved for the use of medical marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act. A WCJ determined that his participation in the medical marijuana program was “reasonable and necessary medical care.” He ordered for Vialpando to pay for the marijuana to be reimbursed by his employer.

The employer, Ben’s Automotive Services, and its insurer appealed, arguing that by paying for the marijuana, they would be breaking federal law. The appeals court rejected their argument. According to Reuters, Judge James Wechsler's written opinion found the employer and its insurer failed to cite a specific federal law they would be forced to violate by reimbursing the man for his medical marijuana treatment.

Jack D. White, Vialpando’s attorney, told the Albuquerque Journal that it was the first time an appellate court in New Mexico had decided that marijuana is a medical expense covered under the state’s workers’ compensation system.

"It's an important decision for workers so seriously injured they would be bound to a lifetime of narcotic medications," White said.