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New Jersey employers can be required to pay for injured workers’ use of medical marijuana, the New Jersey Supreme Court held on Tuesday.
In Hager v. M&K Construction, the court held that injured worker Vincent Hager presented sufficient evidence that his prescribed medical marijuana treatment was a “reasonable and necessary” treatment under the state’s Workers Compensation Act and that the state’s Compassionate Use Act can compel his employer to reimburse the cost of the drug.
Mr. Hager suffered a back injury while working for M&K in 2001 and filed a claim for workers compensation benefits, which the company denied on the ground that the incident was being investigated. Mr. Hager underwent lumbar fusion surgery in 2011, but his pain persisted and he continued to take prescribed opioid medication.
In April 2016, a hospice and palliative care physician enrolled Mr. Hager in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to treat his pain and ween him off opioids. He was prescribed two ounces of medical marijuana a month at a cost of about $600 per monthly marijuana prescription.
Later that year, the construction company acknowledged that Mr. Hager had been an employee and had suffered a work-related injury, and the parties reached an agreement regarding medical bills, most out-of-pocket medical expenses, temporary disability benefits and third-party lien credits.
However, M&K denied Mr. Hager’s request for medical marijuana reimbursement on the grounds that it was not a necessary treatment under the Act. M&K also argued that New Jersey’s Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act is preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act and that reimbursing Mr. Hager for the marijuana would expose the construction company to potential federal criminal liability for aiding and abetting.
A compensation court rejected M&K’s claims and an appellate court affirmed the decision.
M&K petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court for review, but the court held that M&K did not fit within the Compassionate Use Act’s limited reimbursement exception and that the construction company “does not face a credible threat of federal criminal” charges for paying for the medical marijuana.
The court noted that if the legislature had intended to exclude workers compensation under the Compassionate Use Act similar to its exclusion of private health insurers and government medical assistance programs, it would have “expressly included workers’ compensation insurance in its exhaustive list or broadened the exception more generally, as other states have explicitly done.”
The court also found that medical marijuana can “constitute reasonable and necessary care under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation scheme.”
A study released earlier this month showed a 6.7% decline in workers compensation claim activity where states have approved medical marijuana.