Comp and Cannabis: Medical Marijuana in FL ‘Isn’t Going Away’

10.04.2017


By Dara Barney

This is the next article in WorkersCompensation.com's “Comp and Cannabis” series, as Editor Dara Barney explores medical marijuana legislation state-by-state, and what it means regarding workers' compensation.

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There are 12 approved Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs) dispersed across the state of Florida, with cultivating, processing and dispensing authorities, according to Mara Gambineri, communications director for the state Dept. of Health.

The qualification process to become a card-carrying patient seems straightforward as well. A qualified physician inputs the patient’s information into the registry system, and if approved, the patient can utilize an MMTC. Current registry counts are at about 39,000 patients and qualified physicians are at about 1,000.

Qualifying conditions include, but aren’t limited to: Cancer, HIV, AIDs, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Crohn’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

“…Chronic nonmalignant pain caused by a qualifying medical condition or that originates from a qualifying medical condition and persists beyond the usual course of that qualifying medical condition,” Gambineri told WorkersCompensation.com via email. 

But are injured workers filing claims to cover medical marijuana use, due to qualifying ailments? 

“Anecdotally, I haven’t seen it a lot in my world, yet,” Ben Cristal said, a workers’ comp and employment defense attorney, of Tampa-based Cristal Hanenian. “But if you pop positive in a urine screening post-accident, no matter your medical marijuana qualifications, your claim could still be denied. Between that and other factors, I do predict we will see more cases as time will tell.”

Desiree Tolbert-Render, AVP of National Technical Compliance at Sedgwick, told WorkersCompensation.com that she hasn’t seen companies reimbursing for medical marijuana use, currently.

“This is likely due to the constitutional amendment indicating that ‘health insurance providers or government agencies or authorities are not required to reimburse any person for expenses related to medical use of marijuana,’” she said. “…The Florida legislature in June just passed the new law to carry out the constitutional amendment to provide medical marijuana for patients with debilitating conditions.”

Although she has seen other orders in different areas, there hasn’t been much activity by way of the Sunshine State.

“There have been orders to reimburse the injured employee for medical marijuana in some jurisdictions, although I am not aware of any such orders issued in Florida at this time,” she said. “Upon receipt of such an order, we work with employers and clients to determine the appropriate position.” She added that Florida’s list of qualifying conditions doesn’t cover common workers’ comp conditions, except PTSD.

“The medical conditions list in Florida is very specific,” Cristal said. “With PTSD, there might be some appropriate situations where maybe a first responder has a traumatic event at work; they see a death, or something similar.”

As marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 illegal drug, Sedgwick’s stance is to not pay benefits for medical cannabis, Tolbert-Render said.

“Of course our position depends on the state. Several states, including Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Vermont, contain provisions in their legislation indicating that workers’ compensation is not required to cover the cost of medical marijuana,” she said, adding that New Mexico does require reimbursement.

Tolbert-Render stressed the conflict that exists for employers and carriers between state and federal laws. She also noted the National Council on Compensation Insurance, a Florida-based workers’ compensation research organization, has taken to altering the way they take data, for medical marijuana use. 

“NCCI now requires reporting of medical marijuana as part of their Medical Data Call and in the near future there may be more information regarding the prevalence of medical marijuana in the treatment of injured workers,” she said.

But regardless, marijuana is here to stay, according to Cristal. 

“For workers’ comp benefits denial and medical marijuana, it is still an illegal drug. It is still federal illegal,” Cristal said. “In my personal opinion: It’s coming... legalizing medical use could turn out to be a stepping stone for recreational use… Florida is now potentially on that track, and marijuana isn’t going away.”

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