Update: Is Medical Marijuana Covered
Under Workers Comp In California? .
In 2014 we wrote an article on California’s failure to mandate that medically prescribed marijuana be covered as a Workers Compensation benefit. But as the use of medical marijuana to treat illnesses has become more accepted by the medical community, courts have begun to extend legal protections to medical marijuana as a reasonable and necessary treatment that workers’ compensation must cover.
Medical Marijuana Law & Workers Compensation Nationally
The law surrounding medical uses of marijuana have been slow to catch up with public opinion. Though even recreational marijuana use became legal in California this year, marijuana, even for medical use, is still technically illegal under federal law. And this direct conflict between state law (allowing) and federal law (prohibiting) continues to create confusion – especially regarding the rights of an employer & its workers comp insurer, the injured employee and his or her doctor.
In 2015, the New Mexico Court of Appeals was among the first to issue a ruling stating that an employee who was injured on the job must be reimbursed by an employer for the expense of marijuana used for treatment. In other words, in New Mexico, the law has been interpreted to say that Workers Comp benefits DO cover medically prescribed marijuana, if it is prescribed for the work-related injury!
However, certain other states have enacted legislation that expressly prohibits Workers’ Compensation from covering the cost of medical marijuana, including: Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Vermont.
Medical Marijuana Law & Workers Comp in California
In September 2012, the WCAB California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board issued this decision:
“Nothing . . . shall require a governmental, private, or any other health insurance provider or health care service plan to be liable for any claim for reimbursement for the medical use of marijuana.” This meant that workers comp benefits will not be paid in California for medical marijuana.
However, in the case of Cockrell v. Farmers Insurance and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 2012 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 456, a California workers’ compensation issued a decision saying that the use of medical marijuana IS reasonable and necessary under the California workers’ compensation law. Subsequently, in 2015, the workers’ compensation insurance company in that case appealed this decision claiming that the California Code excused “health insurance providers” and “health care service plans” from having to pay for medical marijuana.
The Appeals Board ruled in that case that a workers’ compensation insurance carrier is not a “health care service plan” but sent the case back to the court below for a redetermination.
So while some headway has been made in California regarding the reimbursement of medical marijuana in workers’ compensation cases, we are still far from a unanimous and authoritative court ruling on the matter. What will probably happen that this case, or one similar to it, will end up in the California Court of Appeals, and eventually in the Supreme Court of California, before the matter is settled once and for all.
So, until the law “catches up” with public opinion on medical marijuana, there is a possibility – but absolutely no guarantee – that workers compensation claims for medical marijuana coverage will be covered in California. Until then, however, injured and disabled workers can pursue other pain treatments and remedies that are covered under California Workers Compensation law.
If you have been injured or made ill at work, and would like to explore your Workers Compensation options, our experienced lawyers will be happy to offer you a free consultation.
Call our Workers Comp Lawyers for a FREE CONSULTATION: 562-622-4800.