Medical Marijuana and New Jersey Workers’ Compensation
Medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and the legalization of marijuana have been a newsworthy topic for over a decade in New Jersey.
On January 18, 2010, outgoing Governor Corzine signed into law the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. This act permitted the use of medical cannabis for a set of listed conditions. While this law was enacted, New Jersey was described, at the time, of having the strictest regulations among the states that had similar laws. In 2016, Governor Christie expanded the list of medical conditions that could utilize medical cannabis. Currently under the administration of Governor Murphy, the matter of legalizing marijuana in New Jersey will be on the ballot in 2020.
There has long been the question of how medical marijuana and workers’ compensation claims would be addressed in New Jersey. This week, a Superior Court appeal panel made the determination that medical marijuana needs to be reimbursed by the employer.
On Monday, January 13, 2020 the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division in Jersey City, New Jersey affirmed a lower court ruling that an injured employee must be reimbursed for the cost of medical marijuana. In the matter of Hager v. M&K Construction, the Superior Court three judge panel upheld the lower court decision to reimburse medical marijuana for an injury dating back to 2001. The medical evidence in this case included medical opinions regarding the long-term effects of opioid use vs. medical marijuana.
In the appeal, the employer argued consideration should be given to the Federal Controlled Substance Act and this Act should preempt the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. They argued that allowing medical marijuana to be possessed by the injured worker would violate federal law of illegal possession.
The opinion provided found no conflict between the Federal Controlled Substance Act and the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. They found no legal or legislative issue that would prevent the employer from reimbursing the cost of medical marijuana. Reimbursement of the cost, for someone approved under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, does not require the employer to violate federal law. An individual with approval under the Medical Marijuana Use Act is required to comply with federal law but has immunity under state law.
In New Jersey, only private health insurers and government medical assistance programs are not currently required to provide reimbursement. The appeals panel concluded if the legislature did not include workers’ compensation insurers, they are not exempt from reimbursing these costs.
At the time of this writing it is unknown if this matter will be appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.