The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to stay clear of a debate over whether workers’ compensation insurance covers the costs of medical marijuana for injured workers.
Employers nationwide were watching to see how the court might rule. In electing not to consider the matter, the justices left intact two lower-court rulings – both in lawsuits that had been filed in Minnesota – that held that federal law outlawing marijuana pre-empted state laws that allow it.
In Musta vs. Mendota Heights Dental Center and Bierbach vs. Digger’s Polaris, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that ordering a workers’ compensation insurance carrier to reimburse the cost of medical marijuana violated federal law under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
That clause gives federal statutes primacy over state laws.
The cases were brought by Susan Musta, who suffered a neck injury in her work at a medical facility, and Daniel Bierbach, who was injured in an accident while working for an all-terrain vehicle dealer. Medical marijuana was recommended to treat both for their resulting pain.
Given that the high court declined to hear the case, legal experts said they believe it was unlikely employers and insurers would be compelled to provide medical marijuana reimbursement in workers’ compensation cases in Minnesota – or elsewhere in the nation – absent a change in federal law.
Thirty-seven states have now legalized medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of these states, six have medical marijuana reimbursement under workers’ compensation, with four of them doing so based on a state court decision, according to the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Another six prohibit workers’ compensation reimbursement, while other states do not require it or are silent on the issue.
Before deciding not to take up the Minnesota challenges, the Supreme Court had asked the Justice Department for its thinking on the questions at hand. The solicitor general’s office encouraged the court to leave marijuana policy to Congress or the executive branch.
Other, future cannabis challenges, however, are certain to come before the court at some point. How the court might rule is impossible to tell, although one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas, has suggested that an outright national prohibition may actually be unconstitutional.
We’ll close here as we have in the past:
Laws regarding medical marijuana in the workplace are continually changing. But even with a medical marijuana card, drug use at work is not permissible, workers’ compensation benefits can be lost, and employers are within their right to terminate those who come to work under the influence.
The Mahoney Group is one of the largest independent commercial insurance and employee benefits brokerages in the U.S. For more information, contact us online or call 877-440-3304.
This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.