March 4, 2024

According to studies, the number of states that allow medical marijuana is approaching 40, while legal recreational marijuana is becoming more widely available. Nonetheless, unlike the United States patchwork of cannabis rules, the problem of medical marijuana compensation for injured employees is being tackled from many perspectives.

“Employees receiving workers’ compensation is not uncommon. However, due to the federal law prohibiting marijuana usage, it becomes a huge concern when it comes to medicinal marijuana compensation,” says attorney Bill Umansky. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the biggest roadblock for employees seeking compensation for medicinal marijuana expenses after being injured. As a result, employees are filing lawsuits against the federal prohibition of marijuana under the CSA, which preempts their requests.

Minnesota Workers Compensation Court Cases on Medical Cannabis

Minnesota permits medical marijuana usage, which the state health department regulates. Because marijuana under federal law is illegal, the court concluded it does not apply to workers’ compensation. It is not legal to distribute, possess, or produce marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The Minnesota court ruled that the state statute was unconstitutional because it would require employers to break the CSA by financing marijuana purchases. The court ruled that the federal ban of marijuana under the CSA preempts any ruling under Minnesota Workers’ Compensation law concerning medicinal marijuana. In essence, this preempts any order requiring an employer to compensate an injured employee for the expense of medicinal marijuana.

The case of Minnesota employees who requested workers’ compensation for medical cannabis costs after being injured on the job is raising arguments. As a result, the justices seek input from the Joe Biden administration on this matter.

The Medical Marijuana Workers Compensation Cases Ruling in the Other States

Aside from Minnesota, the medical marijuana worker compensation topic has been raised and taken to court in other states. In their judgments, different state courts have adopted different approaches. For instance, when a case came up in the Maine supreme court, the court used a similar approach to Minnesota.

Meanwhile, despite a federal ban, the supreme courts of New Hampshire and New Jersey have ruled that reimbursements to medical marijuana users can continue. According to the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM), five out of the 36 states permit compensation for marijuana. Seven states, on the other hand, outrightly ban it.

Furthermore, the legislation is silent on the subject in 10 states. In 14 states, insurers cannot compensate employees harmed on the job for medical marijuana-related expenses. The report indicates that lawmakers and courts debate on whether medical marijuana should be covered by workers’ compensation or not.

Efforts to Gain State Acceptance

There seems to be more acceptance of medical marijuana reimbursements through workers’ compensation. Out of the five states, three states: New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York, joined the league earlier this year. It follows decisions by the state supreme court and appellate courts.

The number of states that allow marijuana-related compensation for occupational injuries can increase in the future years, according to the AJIM. The projected increase is due to more employees petitioning state courts and administrative authorities for medical marijuana reimbursement.

Medical Marijuana (MMJ) Effects On Workers’ Compensation

Most firms have a zero-tolerance policy concerning keeping a drug- and alcohol-free workplace. An injured employee taking MMJ for recovery may break this policy. Furthermore, marijuana is considered illegal at the federal level. Medical marijuana users are not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), rendering this a state-by-state problem. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act shields most employees with significant medical issues from discrimination by employers at work. However, it does not protect individuals from a ban from the federal government on marijuana usage. Employers have the right to prohibit employees from using MMJ while on the job, even if they hold a medical marijuana card. 

It is also within their rights to fire employees who arrive at work while under the influence. As a result, if an employee sustains an injury on the job and tests positive for marijuana, the firm insurance company may refuse to pay workers’ compensation. Thus, having a substantial impact on the amount of workers’ compensation benefits an employee receives.

How to Deal With Medical Marijuana at Work

Because many states have passed medical marijuana laws, it has been difficult for employers to create acceptable workplace standards for legitimate marijuana users. The challenges are becoming extremely difficult for employers because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Furthermore, each state has its own set of rules governing the treatment of medicinal marijuana users at work.

#1. Making Marijuana Policies Flexible

Multi-state employers need to make sure their marijuana policies are adaptable to changing court guidance. Furthermore, unless the employer is a federal contractor, employers in states where medical marijuana is permitted should avoid so-called zero-tolerance rules. If inappropriately used on employees protected by a state medical marijuana program, it could result in litigation.

Policies that focus on impairment rather than imposing a total ban on usage tend to be more acceptable. Employers should tell employees using MMJ to acknowledge not to consume the substance while on the job and not execute job functions while impaired.

#2. Monitoring Employees Under Medicinal Marijuana Treatment

Employers must review the extent of the job functions of the employees. Then assess if allowing an employee using medical marijuana to conduct particular job functions poses a safety concern.

First and foremost, employers should be cautious about allowing medical marijuana users to perform duties that pose safety risks. In general, an employer is liable for employees-actions working within their employment scope and course during the wrongful act.

Employers can refer to their state laws for guidance, even though this is an emerging field of law. They should look into how they handled similar situations in the past, such as employees under the influence of alcohol. The essence is to see if the employer can be liable for the wrongful act while under the influence of marijuana.

Final Thoughts

The federal ban on marijuana under the CSA preempts workers’ compensation requiring an employer to compensate an injured employee for the expenses of medical marijuana. Denying employees this compensation has led to them filing lawsuits. However, the remedy is congress passing legislation to fix the state-federal law conflict.