Workers' Comp and Medical Marijuana - New Maine Supreme Court Ruling Has Injured Workers Paying for their Own Pain Relief

The Maine Supreme Court handed down a ruling this past week telling an injured worker he could not be reimbursed the cost of his medical marijuana prescribed by his work comp doctor. Maine is one of many states that have legalized the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. However, our federal government remains firmly entrenched in its antiquated position that all uses of marijuana should remain illegal.

In a 5-2 decision, Maine’s highest court found the federal law classifying marijuana as a controlled substance takes precedent over state law that allows marijuana to be used as medicine. In this case, a worker sustained a severe and debilitating spinal injury for which his doctors originally prescribed strong opioids. The painkillers did little to control the injured workers’ pain, even at ever increasing dosages. Finally, through the use of medical marijuana prescribed by his work comp doctor, there was pain relief with little to no side effects.

When the injured worker requested his employer and work comp fund reimburse him for the medical marijuana, it was refused. The workers’ compensation judge sided with the employee and ordered reimbursement. The Supreme Court, however, overturned this decision citing the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution which says federal laws “trump” conflicting state laws. The majority opinion states, “A person’s right to use medical marijuana cannot be converted into a sword that would require another party, such as [work comp], to engage in conduct that would violate the [federal] Controlled Substances Act.” For more information about this ruling and the dissenting opinion, see https://www.pressherald.com/2018/06/14/maines-highest-court-rules-against-reimbursement-for-medical-marijuana/.

Evidence of an opioid crisis is all around us with more and more deaths being attributed to both the legal and illegal use of narcotic pain killers. Evidence is also available that medical marijuana has the ability to control severe pain with fewer side effects. Could this be a partial answer to the opioid crisis? Not in Maine — at least not as long as the state law is in conflict with federal law.

Kimberly J. Syfrett

Attorney at Law

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