The state's highest court today rejected an injured worker's request that the company that paid him worker's comp pay for his purchases of the medical marijuana that eased his pain following complications from surgery for a work-related injury.
Although medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, the referendum that made it so in 2012 contains a provision that exempts insurers from having to pay for it, because its use remains illegal under federal law.
Until the federal government formally legalizes medical marijuana, that provision will remain in effect, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
At issue were claims submitted by Daniel Wright, who injured his knee in 2010 while stepping off a stair during his work as a cable installer in western Massachusetts. He recovered, got a new job and then re-injured his knee again in 2012. This time, he suffered complications from surgery that left him in frequent pain. In 2013, he applied for and received a medical-marijuana prescription. According to the court's summary:
Wright's use of medical marijuana reduces his pain, increases his mobility, improves his sleep, and reduces his anxiety and anger. Wright has also been able to eliminate the use of any opioids as a result of his medical marijuana use.
But the company that provided his worker's comp payments rejected his requests for reimbursement for his $24,267.86 in medial-marijuana purchases in 2016 and 2017. The Workers' Compensation Trust Fund agreed with the company, citing the risk it would be taking under federal law.
And in its ruling today, the SJC agreed, saying insurance companies should not be put in the position of possibly facing federal law-enforcement actions:
If insurers were required to make such payments, the size and scope of the legalization of medical marijuana would be substantially expanded, raising concerns about Federal enforcement and preemption. First, unlike the patients and doctors covered by the act, insurance companies would not be participating in the patient's use of a federally proscribed substance voluntarily. It is one thing to voluntarily assume a risk of Federal prosecution; it is another to involuntarily have such a risk imposed upon you.