Medical Marijuana may be Bringing Down Workers’ Compensation Claims

Bruce Burk

Tampa, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – With more and more states legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medical reasons, there is no doubt that cannabis is having a major impact on the businesses and the workers’ compensation industry. Now, researchers have linked medical marijuana to a 7% decline in workers’ compensation claims.

Additionally, researchers claim that when there were claims, medical marijuana shortened the length of the average workers’ compensation claim. If true, medical marijuana could conceivably save businesses and insurance companies large amounts of money in the next several years. A 7% reduction in claims may be only the beginning given that medical marijuana has only been around for a few years.

Many believe that part of the reason that medical marijuana is having this impact is because it is taking the place of chronic pain medication such as opioids which can be more expensive than medical marijuana. Regardless of the cost issue, some doctors are attempting to use medical marijuana on chronic pain patients to steer them away from more addictive pain medication such as OxyContin.

Right now there are 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana in some capacity. Of those states, 11 of them have legalized the drug for recreational purposes as well. This means that the study had at least the opportunity to have a fairly decent sample size that would represent a majority of U.S. states if all 33 states were reviewed.

The study, which can be found here, also found that medical marijuana patients were working more hours and saw a reduction of pain. The study also references that states which have legalized medical marijuana as showing a significant reduction in the use of prescriptions that treat depression.

Despite this, many states still have defenses to paying workers’ compensation claims based on an intoxication defense. If a claimant tests positive for marijuana on a post-accident drug test, then the employer/carrier may be able to deny benefits to the claimant.

Opponents of the legalization of medical marijuana state that it is a gateway drug that can lead to addiction. In other words, they claim that a user of medical marijuana is more likely to use other drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

However, state legislatures may have more of a reason to consider legalizing medical marijuana if studies like these continue to show that there is a direct economic benefit to their constituents for taking this action. Here, the argument for legalization is not a moral one but a financial one. If workers’ compensation insurance is cheaper, that lowers the overall cost of doing business in a state and arguably can contribute to a growing economy.

This would be an additional economic argument to the ones already being made by marijuana legalization advocates that it increases tax revenue. There are also studies from Colorado which suggest that marijuana legalization increased the price of real estate within the state. This was due to the fact that those individuals in the marijuana business could not put their money in bank accounts because marijuana was still illegal at the federal level. As a result, those individuals put their money in real estate and thus property values went up. We will have to watch for any additional studies regarding the economic effects of marijuana legalization.

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