Proposed bills in New Jersey would make it clear that state law does not prohibit payers of workers’ compensation from reimbursing injured workers for use of medical marijuana.
On June 28 a New Jersey Division of workers’ compensation judge ordered that Freehold Township reimburse an employee for the use of medical marijuana that he was using to treat a work-related injury.
This is at least the second time that a court in New Jersey came to this decision. This also occurred in Watson v. 84 Lumber in December 2016.
The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 4097, would not prohibit a government medical assistance program or private health insurer from reimbursing a patient for the costs of the drug.
The bill would be an addition to the current law, with a section reading “Nothing in this section shall preclude any employer or any Workers’ Compensation insurer from reimbursing a person for costs associated with the medical use of marijuana.”
This would eliminate any current confusion regarding whether workers’ compensation is included in the current law’s exclusion of “a government medical assistance program or private health insurer.” The bill was sent to the Assembly Labor Committee.
At the end of September, another proposed piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 4505, would alter New Jersey’s medical marijuana statute directly to include coverage for workers’ compensation.
A Violation of Federal Law?
No longer could workers’ compensation payers/insurers argue that they were prohibited from coverage. Still, carriers may decline to do so, as many are concerned with the drug’s current illegal status under federal law.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is a crime to knowingly or intentionally manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess marijuana, a Schedule I drug.
In a recent case in Maine, their Supreme Judicial Court declared reimbursement to be “aiding and abetting” breaking a federal law. However, during the June case in New Jersey, the judge made known his dissent, explaining that the insurer providing compensation for medical marijuana does not make a carrier complicit, as the Maine court claimed.
The judge also argued that opioids, the employee’s other option, would be both more dangerous due to their addictive properties, and more expensive than marijuana – another benefit for payers.
Although important, many believe that these New Jersey decisions would not be as influential as that of the Maine high court, as the workers’ compensation industry has not yet had a clear direction as to where the medical marijuana issue is moving.
However, should marijuana become legal at the federal level, the issue would become moot.
Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks LLP Assist Clients Dealing with Claim Denials
If you or a loved one has been injured while at work, not only can it have a great effect on your physical health, but it can also have a major financial impact on your life. That is why it is so important to seek out a Cherry Hill workers’ compensation lawyer at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks LLP who understands the issues that you are facing and knows how to help. If you have been denied benefits, call 856-761-3773 or contact us online today to arrange a free consultation. We help clients in Cherry Hill, Camden, and the Greater South Jersey area.