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Medical marijuana deemed 'reasonable and necessary' in N.M. workers comp case

Medical marijuana deemed 'reasonable and necessary' in N.M. workers comp case

Medical marijuana should be classified as “reasonable and necessary medical care” and paid for under a New Mexico man's workers compensation claim, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled last week.

In Miguel Maez v. Riley Industrial and Chartis, Mr. Maez suffered two back injuries in February and March 2011 while working for Riley Industrial Services Inc., which is based in Show Low, Arizona, and has operations in Farmington, New Mexico. Riley was insured for workers comp by Chartis Inc., now the property/casualty business of American International Group Inc., court records show.

Mr. Maez received temporary disability workers comp benefits for his injuries, and a New Mexico workers comp judge determined he was entitled to ongoing reasonable and necessary medical care, court filings show.

In 2012 and 2013, Dr. Anthony Reeve authorized Mr. Maez to use medical marijuana after traditional medical therapies — including spinal anti-inflammatory injections and opioids such as Percocet, oxycodone and hydrocodone — failed to treat Mr. Maez's chronic back pain and herniated disk, according to court filings.

New Mexico approved the use of medical marijuana in 2007.

In a deposition for Mr. Maez's case, Dr. Reeve testified that he approved the marijuana licenses because Mr. Maez had “already tested positive for marijuana use” prior to receiving authorization, records show. However, the doctor said he provided authorization to Mr. Maez and other patents only because they “are going to use the cannabis either one way or the other.”

If “patients request that I sign (authorization for medical marijuana), I will sign for them, but I'm not recommending or distributing or in any way advocating for the use of medical cannabis,” Dr. Reeve said in testimony.

A workers comp judge ruled that medical marijuana did not constitute reasonable and necessary medical care for Mr. Maez because Dr. Reeve did not “prescribe” the controlled substance for Mr. Maez's pain, records show. Based on that finding, the judge ruled that Riley and Chartis did not need to pay for Mr. Maez's medical marijuana prescription.

However, a three-judge panel of the New Mexico Court of Appeals unanimously reversed that decision on Jan. 13, finding that New Mexico's “compassionate use” law allows Mr. Maez's medical marijuana authorization to be treated as a prescription for workers comp.

The appellate court cited a May 2014 decision that found New Mexico medical marijuana authorization qualifies as a “functional equivalent of a prescription” since medical marijuana isn't a prescription drug in the state.

Further, the appellate court found that medical marijuana was a reasonable and necessary treatment for Mr. Maez since other traditional medical treatments did not alleviate his back pain and Dr. Reeve authorized him to use medical marijuana twice.

“Regardless of whether (Mr. Maez) requested treatment with medical marijuana, Dr. Reeve had treated (Mr. Maez) with traditional pain management that had failed,” the ruling reads. “He adopted a treatment plan based on medical marijuana. He would not have done so if it were an unreasonable medical treatment.”

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