Legislation to Require Payers to Fund Medical Cannabis Acknowledges Federal Prohibition

Nancy Grover

Trenton, NJ (WorkersCompensation.com) – Legislation to require employers/insurers to pay for medical marijuana for injured workers and others seems to walk a fine line between opposing state and federal laws. A1708 would require payers to foot the bill for medical cannabis – unless the feds step in.

“As amended, this bill requires workers’ compensation, personal injury protection (PIP), and health insurance coverage for the medical use of cannabis under certain circumstances,” the bill states. It says payers are “not required to provide coverage or benefits for costs associated with the medical use of cannabis upon intervention by the federal government to enforce the federal ‘Controlled Substances Act.'”

The legislation was passed by the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on Monday. New Jersey is among a number of states that allow for medical cannabis, despite its illegal status under federal law. Many states are grappling with the dichotomy.

“On one hand, [New Jersey is] following what the rest of country is doing, the trend – to allow medical cannabis as a treatment under workers’ compensation law,” said Albert B. Randall, Jr., President of Franklin & Prokopik. “At the same time, it appears the legislators are trying to be cognizant of the overriding federal implications.”

The fact that the legislation takes payers off the hook if there is federal intervention signals to Randall that the lawmakers are trying to move forward despite the considerable federal legal issues involved.

“So they’re saying it’s not illegal to do it until it becomes illegal to do it and the federal government decides to step in.”

Randall also questions a provision of the legislation that allows payers to remit payment to the insured if payment to the dispensary is “not feasible.”

“What is ‘not feasible?’ Randall said. “It seems to me that as long as a check can be issued and a dispensary is willing to accept it, it makes that transaction feasible.”

The fact that marijuana is illegal under federal law makes it difficult if not impossible for financial institutions to engage in transactions with dispensaries or others selling the drug. “So the question is, does the overriding federal law make it ‘not feasible?’” Randall said, “or are there going to be opportunities when claimants and especially their lawyers will argue that payment is feasible, that it can and should be made and why should an injured worker have to fund the payment for medical needs in advance and then have to wait to be reimbursed at some unspecified time.”

The bill’s sponsors reportedly issued a statement following Monday’s committee approval, saying medical cannabis seen as an effective pain treatment that is a cheaper and less addictive alternative to opioids and other prescribed medications.

At least one plaintiffs’ attorney in New Jersey agreed.

“This legislation clearly defines the public policy in New Jersey to permit the use of medical marijuana to treat the residuals of workplace injuries,” said Jon L. Gelman, a prolific blogger and former VP of The Workers Injury Law & Advocacy Group. “It furthers the much needed alternative to the use of addictive opioids and their tragic consequences … it provides a much needed treatment modality for injured workers while also improving the outcomes for employers and their workers’ compensation insurance carriers.”

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