Comp and Cannabis: NY’s Workers’ Comp Board Reimburses Qualified Injured Workers in Med Marijuana


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.


The Empire State, including the Big Apple New York City, took a bite out of medical marijuana about two years ago. 

“Since New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) launched less than two years ago, the program has made great strides including the certification of 33,979 patients and the registration of 1,284 practitioners,” according to Public Information Officer Jill Montag of the New York State Dept. of Health (DOH). The DOH is responsible for the program, and granting organizations permission to manufacture/dispense in the state. 

“As marijuana is a Schedule I drug, health insurance coverage is uncommon, according to Montag.  New York’s Medical Marijuana Program was established so that patients suffering from debilitating illnesses could have access to an alternative treatment option. Patients with qualifying conditions should discuss with their treating practitioners whether medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment option for them,” she said.

But what does this mean for workers’ comp?

“The Compassionate Care Act protects someone receiving worker’s compensation benefits from having his/her benefits discontinued simply for using medical marijuana,” per Montag.

The Act’s website lists what could qualify a patient to become eligible for medicinal use in the state. Conditions include cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, neuropathies and inflammatory bowel disease, among others.

“If the patient is terminally ill (as certified by their doctor), the registration doesn’t expire until patient’s death,” according to the site. Otherwise registration ends one year from when the doctor signs the certification.

“Public Health Law section 3369 outlines protections for the medical use of marihuana, and states that certified patients ‘shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner or denied any right or privilege…solely for the certified medical use…of marihuana, or for any other action or conduct in accordance with this title.’  The section further states that being a certified patient shall be deemed to be having a ‘disability’ under Article 15 of the Executive Law and other provisions of law.”

The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board looks to studies showing positive outcomes.

“…we are pleased we can cover it for New York State-approved indications within our workers’ compensation system,” according to Melissa Stewart, Public Information Officer for the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board.

“To certify patients for medical marijuana within workers’ compensation, health care providers must be registered with the Department of Health as well as authorized-workers’ compensation board health care providers. Currently, an injured worker who becomes a certified patient in New York’s Medical Marijuana Program due to a qualifying condition under public health law is able to be reimbursed for their medical marijuana,” she said. 

As for workplace policies, employers can restrict employees from being impaired while on the job, similar to other controlled substances.

“For New York workers’ compensation carriers, the budding industry of medical marijuana will likely provide an interesting new set of challenges and concerns in the administration of treatment for eligible patients and injured workers,” writes Goldberg Segalla attorney Cory Decresenza on the Workers’ Compensation Defense blog.

As there are no treatment guidelines in the state for marijuana, there can be confusion on doses, how to take it and timeframes, he writes. Plus, it is still federally illegal. 

“…Another potentially hazy issue for employers is whether medical marijuana prescriptions for injured claimants who return to work while taking this medication will result in legal battles centering around conflicts with employers’ established drug testing policies and concerns of future accidents involving workers who have recently taken the medication,” according to Decresenza.

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