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N.J. comp judge orders employer to pay for medical pot for injured worker

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A New Jersey Division of Workers' Compensation judge has ordered Freehold Township to pay for a municipal worker’s medical marijuana following a workplace injury, according to court transcripts from a June 28 hearing that surfaced Wednesday.

Judge Lionel Simon noted that he is aware of the federal law prohibiting the use of marijuana, a Schedule I drug, but that in the case of Steven McNeary v. Freehold Township, the worker has "a documented medical need" for medical marijuana.

Mr. McNeary, whose injuries and vocation are not mentioned in the transcript, expressed concern that he might become addicted to opioids if he did not receive medical marijuana. It was the concern that spurred the judge to rule in his favor, according to the transcript. 

Leonard Weiss, the attorney representing Mr. McNeary, on Thursday told New Jersey 101.5 FM radio that his client first injured his back in 2007 and again in 2008. He underwent multiple surgeries under the care of a pain-management physician, who was authorized by the municipality. The physician prescribed opioids, which the worker took for years and built up a tolerance. Facing drug dependency, the physician referred the patient to medical marijuana, according to the news report. The attorney could not be reached for comment.

Judge Simon said the addiction component is “criminal,” and not the providing of medical marijuana for pain, according to the 17-page transcript. 

"Quite frankly, this Court is very aware of the tremendously, the explosion of these narcotics on the streets in the United States in the last decade, the tremendous amounts of death and addiction that are associated with these opioids. If there's anything criminal here, it's how these drugs have been force-fed to injured people creating addicts," Judge Simon said.

He went on to say, "I believe, and I think the science supports this, is that medical marijuana is safer, it's less addictive, it is better for the treatment of pain. It is better for, in this particular case, the muscular spasticity which Mr. McNeary suffers from. The long-term prognosis is better and, quite frankly, it is cheaper for the carriers. I think it's the right thing to do and I feel no moral or legal hesitancy in that.”

Officials with Freehold Township could not immediately be reached for comment.