N.Y. Court Approves Medical Marijuana for Worker Dealing with Pain, Opioids

Frank Ferreri

New York, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) – The state of medical marijuana and workers’ compensation isn’t exactly settled

But in Matter of Barretta v. Pal Environmental Safety, No. 533216 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div. 07/14/22), the court found that state law allowing medical marijuana was not preempted by federal law to the contrary, allowing a worker to receive treatment for pain and opioid dependence.

The fire proofer had an established claim for an occupational disease involving his back, hips, legs, and right foot. Medical treatment was authorized and awards were made. About six years later, and despite engaging in numerous forms of treatment, including surgery, physical therapy, and prescription opiates, the fire proofer’s pain persisted. Because of continued pain, the fire proofer sought a variance to treat his pain with medical marijuana.

The employer and its carrier denied the request on the ground that such treatment was not approved by the FDA. Following a hearing, a Workers’ Compensation Law Judge granted the fire proofer’s claim for a variance, prompting the employer to appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Board. The board affirmed, and the employer appealed to court.

Under New York law, medical marijuana is authorized for the treatment of chronic pain. When warranted, a treating medical provider may seek a variance for authorization to use medical marijuana.

Here, the court found that the board made the right call in uphold the WCLJ’s decision. The court explained that the board based its decision on Matter of Quigley v. Village of East Aurora, No. 530353 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div. 02/25/21), which determined that coverage for a claimant’s medical marijuana expenses under the Compassionate Care Act was not preempted by federal law.

“The record confirms that [the fire proofer] suffers from debilitating, persistent pain that has degraded his health and functional capabilities,” the court wrote. “He has explored numerous treatment options, including surgery, physical therapy, a TENS unit, massage therapy and multiple prescriptions, including opiates, with limited success.”

In reaching its decision the court pointed to the following for support:

  • Using medical marijuana helped the fire proofer’s pain and function
  • The treatment plan involving medical marijuana was to address chronic pain issues and opiate titration and to decrease opiates in the future

As a result, the court upheld the decision allowing the fire proofer to receive medical marijuana treatment.