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Medical Marijuana: A Growing Issue for Workers' Comp?

May 05, 2015| By Bill Lentz | Workers' Compensation | English

Region: North America

Will medical marijuana ever be part of an approved standard treatment plan for injured workers? Many Workers' Compensation industry experts believe that medical marijuana is a non-issue. Their reasoning includes the following factors:

  • Medical marijuana has not been endorsed or approved by the FDA.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA), and other such organizations, have failed to support its use as a therapeutic option.
  • Issues with regard to dosing and distribution, given its inconsistent potency.
  • Physicians certified to prescribe marijuana are unlikely to be those included in workers' compensation preferred provider networks. PBM networks are unable to bill or dispense.
  • Marijuana remains classified by the federal government as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act.

These are very strong reasons that medical marijuana should not be a concern with regard to Workers’ Compensation. In fact, some claim professionals don’t mind the idea of injured workers using marijuana as an alternative treatment as its cost would not currently be included in the calculation of Medicare Set Asides for the purposes of settlement.   

What is very important to note, however, is that the above listed facts have not prevented the legalization of medical marijuana in 23 states and the District of Columbia. This number is likely to grow, along with the number of states that have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana or have legalized its recreational use. A recent Pew Research Center poll indicates that 52% of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana.1 Times have indeed changed when you consider that a similar poll in 1969 found just 12% of the country in favor.


While there are claims that marijuana can provide relief for many conditions, the top use is for pain. This coincides with one of the most common symptoms in Workers' Compensation claims that gave rise to the explosive use of opioid medications. Proponents believe medical marijuana should be used as a substitute for narcotic pain medication.

The legal marijuana economy is expected to grow to nearly $15 billion over the next several years.2 As this industry grows further, some believe commercialization is inevitable, which will include utilization of the successful strategies of Big Tobacco.3 As such, stronger efforts may be made to bring the use of marijuana into the medical mainstream, including the world of Workers' Compensation.

Other recent developments:

  • Two alternative drugs that are already available - Marinol and Cesamet - utilize a synthetic form of marijuana’s active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These drugs have been approved by the FDA and have been accepted by the medical community, to treat vomiting due to chemotherapy and loss of appetite.4
  • In two separate decisions within the past year, a New Mexico court has ruled that an employer must reimburse an injured worker for purchase and use of medical marijuana as treatment for a work-related injury.
  • A bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate (CARERS Act) in March 2015, which proposes to reclassify marijuana and end the federal prohibition on its use for medical purposes.

While we may not see widespread state-mandated acceptance of medical marijuana as treatment for injured workers anytime soon, this issue continues to evolve. Further court decisions, changes to laws, new research findings, and public pressure can alter the landscape with regard to medical marijuana and Workers' Compensation.


1. December 11, 2014.
Big Pot? The Marijuana Industry is Following the Trail Blazed by Big Tobacco. January 4, 2015.
4. AmCOMP Views Newsletter:  Medical Marijuana: Low Impact or High Cost?  Summer 2014


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