Will Medical Marijuana Be Available Through Workers’ Comp?

Marijuana growing in a commercial greenhouse

Medical marijuana has been a hot-button issue for years now, with many people arguing for it and others arguing the substance has no medical use. However, more and more states have approved legislation to make medical marijuana and other CBD products legal in some form. In fact, less than 10 states today have strict medical marijuana bans, and more than a dozen will have completely legalized or decriminalized marijuana in small amounts by 2021.

With medical marijuana making headway in many states, does it make sense to expect workers’ compensation programs to start offering medical marijuana as a medical benefit to some claimants? The answer is complex because the laws surrounding marijuana are, too. But, for now, the answer is probably, no, workers’ comp benefits will likely not include medical marijuana any time soon.

Federal Drug Laws Stand in the Way

The biggest obstacle between medical marijuana or CBD products being provided through workers’ compensation at this time is probably federal law. Although many states have chosen to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, the federal government has not. The federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, categorizing it with narcotics as infamous as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.

As a Schedule I drug, marijuana is viewed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as having no officially recognized medical benefit. Of course, plenty of researchers, doctors, and patients will confidently say otherwise. But, for now, the federal government sees marijuana, cannabis, CBD, and THC that way, so it is illegal in its eyes.

Insurers and employers alike have no desire to get caught up in a legal conflict, especially not one that involved a federal law. The fact that providing medical marijuana could be legal in an employer’s state but still remain illegal by federal law is enough to keep medical marijuana out of pretty much every workers’ compensation policy.

On-the-Job Impairment Further Complicates the Matter

Providing a worker with medical marijuana through workers’ compensation also brings up the added issue of on-the-job impairment if that worker can return to light-duty or modified tasks. On the one hand, the employee would be entitled to use the medical marijuana as directed, and the employer would probably not have legal grounds to discriminate against them for recreational drug use as long as it occurred off-the-clock. Yet a medical marijuana prescription would likely require the patient to take a dose each day, possibly more than once a day. The likelihood of on-the-job impairment would be steep, which is a serious safety issue.

Again, employers do not want to get into legal trouble when it could be easily avoided. Approving of a workers’ compensation plan that provides medical marijuana is twice as unlikely when considering that it could cause or encourage on-the-job impairment.

Will Medical Marijuana Be Approved for Workers’ Comp Soon?

There is no way to tell for certain what future legislation will hold. The only certainty of workers’ comp law is that it changes often and with the times. As more states legalize medical marijuana and more working-class citizens understand its benefits, it is not a farfetched idea to imagine that it will become widely available through workers’ compensation at some point in the not-so-distant future.