Medical Marijuana and the Injured Worker

By: Douglas A. Williams

In April of 2016, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Act (or MMA). As many readers are probably aware, the MMA will eventually permit doctors in PA to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from problems that including cancer, psychiatric conditions, chronic pain, and a wide variety of neurological disorders, among others. The MMA has not yet been fully implemented, but likely will be within the next year.

Injured workers may wonder whether or not workers’ compensation insurance carriers will be obligated to pay for medical marijuana. The MMA provides that, “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require an insurer or a health plan, whether paid for by Commonwealth funds or private funds, to provide coverage for medical marijuana.” On the other hand, the PA Workers’ Compensation Act provides that workers’ compensation insurance carriers must pay for all medical treatment that is reasonable, necessary, and causally related to the work injury. Thus, it appears that there is a conflict between the MMA and the Workers’ Compensation Act. This conflict will likely have to be resolved by the PA appellate courts.

Of course, it is certainly possible that workers’ compensation insurance carriers won’t always refuse to authorize medical marijuana. Indeed, in many cases, medical marijuana may be a cheaper, less addictive, treatment option than more expensive, narcotic medications. In those cases, medical marijuana may be the best option for both the injured worker and the workers’ compensation carrier.

Injured workers–particularly those who work for employers who require drug tests and prohibit the use of marijuana–may wonder how the use of medical marijuana will affect their employment. The MMA does include language that prohibits an employer from terminating or in any way discriminating against workers solely because those workers have been prescribed and use medical marijuana. Confusingly, though, the MMA does allow an employer to discipline a worker for poor performance, even if that poor performance is related to the use of medical marijuana.

If you are an injured worker whose doctor is considering prescribing medical marijuana, contact an attorney at Abes Baumann to further discuss your rights under the PA Workers’ Compensation Act.




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