New Jersey Court Rules Employer Must Reimburse Medical Marijuana Expenses in Workers’ Compensation Case

The New Jersey Appellate Division has ruled that it was appropriate for a workers’ compensation judge to order an employer to reimburse its employee for their medical marijuana expenses as part of his workers’ compensation case.

In the case Vincent Hager v. M&K Construction, the employee, Vincent Hager, suffered an injury while working for M&K Construction in 2001, when a truck delivering concrete dumped the load onto him, reports the National Law Review.

Mr. Hager apparently suffered severe lower back pain that radiated through his legs, caused by herniated and annular discs in his spine, as well as nerve damage, causing chronic pain. Spinal surgeries were unsuccessful and opioid pain relief treatment only provided partial relief. M&K Construction and its insurer repeatedly denied workers’ compensation benefits.

Mr. Hager, seeking an alternative to opioid pain medication, received a prescription for medical marijuana from an authorized physician. This medical marijuana not only relieved his pain but also improved his sleep and reduced his reliance on opioids. He paid approximately $616 per month for his prescription, and his physician stated that he would need medical marijuana for pain management “for the rest of his life”. Medical experts also confirmed Mr. Hager’s partial disability resulting from the accident.

A workers’ compensation judge determined that Mr. Hager’s medical condition was linked to his work-related accident and that he suffered permanent partial total disability, with 50% attributed to his orthopedic condition and 15% to the effects of medical marijuana. As a result, the judge ordered M&K Construction to reimburse Mr. Hager for his medical marijuana expenses.

M&K Construction appealed, contending that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which criminalizes marijuana possession and distribution without exception, preempted the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act (CUMMA) because compliance with both was impossible. They also argued that reimbursing Mr. Hager’s medical marijuana expenses would amount to aiding and abetting a crime.

However, the New Jersey Appellate Division disagreed, asserting that there was no conflict preemption between the CSA and CUMMA since it was possible to comply with both. They emphasized that an employer’s reimbursement of a registered medical marijuana patient’s expenses did not necessitate the employer committing federal offenses. The court noted the absence of federal prosecutions against employers or insurance carriers for such reimbursement, casting doubt on M&K Construction’s argument. Furthermore, the court highlighted the federal government’s lack of intention to enforce the CSA in states that had decriminalized marijuana.

The court also rejected M&K Construction’s claim that reimbursing Mr. Hager’s medical marijuana expenses would amount to aiding and abetting a crime, as the specific intent threshold for aiding and abetting liability was not met. The CUMMA explicitly exempted health insurers from reimbursing medical marijuana costs, but this exclusion did not apply to workers’ compensation coverage.

The court determined that Mr. Hager’s use of medical marijuana was reasonable and necessary due to his severe chronic pain, especially given that other treatments had proven ineffective.

You can find the court’s full ruling by clicking here.

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