How Medical Marijuana Impacts Douglasville, GA Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Currently, within the United States, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have all made medical marijuana legal. Another nine states are considering legalization as well. A major issue that both employers and their insurance carriers are paying attention to is if medical marijuana as a treatment should or would be covered under a workers’ compensation product. As of now, there is no simple, cut and dry answer, but it is certain that there are issues involving medical marijuana use that could play a part in our state’s workers’ compensation system. If you need help regarding your medical marijuana workers’ compensation claim, please contact one of our experienced Douglasville workers’ compensation attorneys. The attorneys within The Law Office of John. B Jackson are knowledgeable on all local workers’ compensation laws and marijuana legislation. 

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The primary issue is the fact that medical marijuana is not legal at the federal level. Marijuana is actually categorized as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. This federal act makes it illegal to distribute, possess, or to cultivate the drug. This is in complete opposition to states where the drug is medically or recreationally legal. Even in places where medical marijuana is legal, the question remains; is the use of medical marijuana going to be covered as a drug within your claim. This answer usually differs from state to state. Take for instance a recent case in New Mexico, where an appellate court ruled that the insurer had to pay for the employee’s medical marijuana. The case was a worker within an automotive shop that was injured, and he suffers chronic pain from a job-related back injury. He has 99% permanent partial disability and his medical marijuana is part of his treatment. The judge ruled that within the state of New Mexico the worker’s medical marijuana treatment was “reasonable and necessary medical care,” which is listed under the state’s medical marijuana law.

How Does Medical Marijuana Affect Workers’ Compensation Across the US?

It’s important for you to get a broad view of how up and down dealing with medical marijuana issues through workers’ compensation can be. A different state could get you a very different outcome. In Maine, a recent outcome of a workers’ compensation case involving medical marijuana did not go so swiftly for the injured worker. An employee who injured their back making deliveries requested reimbursement for a medical evaluation for obtaining a medical marijuana card, medical marijuana, and a vaporizer. The Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) of Maine, states that an injured worker “is entitled to reasonable and proper medical, surgical, hospital services, nursing, medicines, and mechanical and surgical aids, as needed, paid for by the employer.” The employer, in this case, argued that the medical marijuana services should not be coverable under the WCA. Therefore, the employer should not be responsible for those medical services as the action would be, “complicit in a violation of federal law and subject to the risks of federal prosecution.” The employer also used the medical marijuana statute of Maine in support of their argument, as the statute states that it may not be taken out of context. This means it cannot to require a government medical assistance program to reimburse someone for the expenses incurred through use of medical marijuana. In this specific case, the WCA agreed with the employer. Other states, including Arizona and Montana, have taken a similar position to that of Maine. They agree that a Workers’ Compensation Insurance carrier can not be forced to pay for medical marijuana because the use and possession of the substance is still illegal on the federal law level.

Another key factor that payers of the Workers’ Compensation rely on is evidence-based guidelines be used when making treatment decisions. As of now, medical marijuana is not included within any Workers’ Compensation treatment guidelines. Guidelines, such as the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), and the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG) are the benchmarks considered when it comes to treatment in occupational industries. Neither one of these organizations add any direct coverage or inclusions for medical marijuana. For this reason, many workers’ compensation payers are opting to deny coverage.

In addition to these issues with medical marijuana, there is also the issue of workplace safety that has employers concerned. Many employers must be sure that their work environments comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Employers also have to comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). All employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from harm. Under OSHA’s general duty clause, all employers must provide their employees with a job that is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” What happens if an employer hires or hires back a medical marijuana user, and they injure themselves or others while on the job?

How Does Medical Marijuana Treatment Work in Georgia?

In instances surrounding medical marijuana use and employee, injuries are looked at on a state-by-state basis. All courts, employers, employees, and their attorneys must examine and cross reference their state’s workers’ compensation law in conjunction with the same state’s medical marijuana laws. By closely looking at both aspects of medical marijuana law and workers’ compensation laws, one should be able to determine what responsibilities they have regarding coverage for medical marijuana treatment. In addition, employers need to review their employee handbooks and their personal policies with legal consultants to make sure their expectations are communicated clearly regarding their medical marijuana policy to their workers. Employers should work closely with their insurers, TPAs, and pharmacy benefit managers to build workers compensation policies regarding medical marijuana. These policies should explain medical marijuana use and its treatments to workplace illnesses and injuries.

The state of Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws do not specifically bar medical marijuana treatment coverage.  However, the state does not contain a full fledged, finalized medical marijuana law either. As of right now, authorized workers’ compensation doctors throughout Georgia do not have the authority to write medical marijuana prescriptions. So at the moment, most workers’ compensation payers will not be footing the bill for your medical marijuana treatment. The biggest takeaway from this article is to remember to remain up to date on medical marijuana laws and workers’ compensation laws throughout Georgia. Many new laws and changes are going to happen over the next few years, and it’s best to know your rights and be prepared.

Consult with a Georgia Attorney About Your Workers’ Compensation Case

If you have other medical marijuana questions regarding your workers’ compensation case, please call our office today to speak to one of our skilled workers’ compensation attorneys. At The Law Office of John B. Jackson, we take pride in being ahead of the curve and staying current with new Georgia laws and legislations. If you have recently been injured on the job, had a claim denied, or are currently battling a workers’ compensation claim, our Georgia workers’ compensation attorneys can assist you with your legal issues.