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Maine high court hears medical marijuana reimbursement case

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The Supreme Judicial Court in Maine heard arguments Wednesday on whether an employer must pay for medical marijuana that a man who was injured at a paper mill in 1989 claims has been a source of relief for more than two decades of pain and suffering.

Gaeton Bourgoin was working at Twin Rivers Paper Co. L.L.C.’s OK paper mill on March 3, 1989, when he suffered a work-related back injury. Within a year, he was given total incapacity benefits and has been disabled since, per court documents in Gaetan H. Bourgoin v. Twin Rivers Paper Co. L.L.C. and Sedgwick CMS. Since then, Mr. Bourgoin has suffered from severe chronic pain syndrome and experiences pain and muscle spasms in his back, legs, arms and chest. He was diagnosed in the early 1990s with reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which causes him burning pain, mostly in his legs, court records show.

Court documents chronical Mr. Bourgoin’s pain, mental suffering and several therapies for relief, including narcotics, which he became addicted to in the 1990s. Many years later in his treatment, he was admitted to a psychiatric facility for chronic pain with insomnia and suicidal ideation. After Mr. Bourgoin’s hospitalization, both his doctor and psychiatrist recommended a trial of medical marijuana, which was legalized in Maine in 2015, according to court documents.

“Mr. Bourgoin has been using medical marijuana for his pain since that time. He testified that his quality of life has improved, that he experiences significantly less pain, and he sleeps better. He no longer takes opioid pain medications or other narcotic drugs,” court documents state. 

When Mr. Bourgoin sought reimbursement for his treatment he was denied, based on marijuana’s illegal status with the federal government. He appealed to the state Workers’ Compensation Board, which ruled in his favor. His employer subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court.

A Sedgwick spokesperson said the company cannot comment on pending litigation. Representatives for the employer and employee were not immediately available to comment.