Comp and Cannabis: No Injured Worker Coverage in WA, but Options Do Exist


By Dara Barney

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


Among the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana, Washington took the leap five years ago. While recreational and medicinal marijuana are legal with the proper certification, unlicensed home grows are illegal, and any purchased marijuana product has to be partaken in off retail property and within the state, according to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s (WSLCB’s) website. And also as of last year, growing/dispensary organizations are only allowed to operate with a license from the Board.

Elaine Fischer, Public Affairs representative for the Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries, told that medicinal marijuana isn’t a covered benefit in the state’s workers’ comp system. “…Washington workers’ comp insurance does not pay for medical marijuana, and we don’t anticipate that will change anytime soon,” she said.

Although, WSLCB did outline employer drug testing on its website: “The law does not address the topic of drug testing but it is our understanding that employers may still conduct drug testing at their discretion. Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, (sic) institutions that receive federal funds will still be subject to mandated testing. Organizations such as the NFL and NBA have issued statements that marijuana consumption is a violation of their conduct policy and they intend to continue testing for it.”

Treatment guidelines, according to the state’s Dept. of Health Medical Quality Assurance Commission (MQAC), listed online, covers requirements for treating physicians who authorize use of medicinal marijuana, including: A patient examination, treatment plan, ongoing treatment, health plan maintenance, how to treat under 18 patients, and continuing education.  

Although qualifying doctors can’t “prescribe” the schedule I drug, they can authorize use as a treatment in the state, according to the Medical Commission’s Legislative and Deputy Executive Director Micah Matthews.

Matthews can’t elaborate on workers’ comp specifics, but did take note of a Health Affairs  article entitled “Medical Marijuana Laws May Be Associated With A Decline In The Number Of Prescriptions For Medicaid Enrollees.” He observed, based on the article, “…that in every state where medical marijuana is present (to) patients, injured workers or not, are at a minimum substituting prescriptions for marijuana and possibly requiring less medicated treatment.”

If an injured worker or otherwise decides to take the medical marijuana route on their own as a patient, a voluntary database exists for those who qualify. “…There are benefits to joining the database including: arrest protection, purchasing 3 times the current limits at licensed medically-endorsed retail stores, sales-tax free purchases, purchasing high-THC products, the ability to legally purchase and grow marijuana plants for medical use and the ability to join a registered cooperative (regulated by the WSLCB),” according to WA Dept. of Health’s David G. Johnson. He represents the Center for Public Affairs. Between the Commission and the state Dept. of Health (DOH), the two are separate entities. 

Washington State DOH oversees doctor licensing, database operations, certification training, medical marijuana consultants and packaging/labeling/testing for compliant products.

At least one medical marijuana consultant is required on staff at any medically-endorsed marijuana retailer. The consultant has to go through 20 hours of training, CPR training and a background check, Johnson said.

Although the Commission can’t take sides on marijuana as a treatment, “…If meaningful peer reviewed research and rigorous studies are conducted that show efficacy and patient improvement, then the conversation about appropriate treatment becomes more informed. There is quite a bit of uncertainty in the practitioner community about using marijuana but that stems mostly from concern about it being schedule I, potential DEA actions, and a general lack of knowledge in how to apply marijuana to effective treatment,” Matthews said.

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