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.
Baton Rouge, LA (WorkersCompensation.com) – In the land of Mardi Gras, it seems the number of doctors who have completed the application process to dispense marijuana is low, especially with the start date for the medical marijuana program fast approaching for this summer, according to the Advocate and the Associated Press.
As of December, six doctors have applied, with three approved so far, according to the LA State Board of Medical Examiners. “…None have been denied. The rest are pending. Nearly all the doctors who have applied practice in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, though an Alexandria doctor's application is pending,” per the article.
Once approved and the program starts, doctors will issue a “physician recommendation form” as federal law still deems the drug illegal.
Louisiana State University (LSU) and Southern University grow medical marijuana, with a product and vendors pending to dispense by the program start date.
“…Louisiana's law will eventually get the drug to people with cancer, a severe form of cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy and other diseases, officials say,” per the article. “Marijuana can be available in medicinal oils, pills, sprays and topical applications, but cannot be sold in a form that can be smoked.”
One permit per healthcare region is expected for dispensing pharmacies, by January, per the article, and the Board of Pharmacy.
“…In sum, with no medication produced, nowhere to obtain it once it is produced, and only (3) (sic) doctors licensed to prescribe it, Louisiana is still very far from having a viable medical marijuana program. But, it’s getting there,” according to Daren Sarphie of the law firm Workers’ Compensation LLC, via email to WorkersCompensation.com.
Sarphie isn’t the only one with maybe a few reservations.
“The state program is yet to be up-and-running. If/when it is operational, it will be among the most limited programs in the nation, and will likely fall well short of meeting most patients’ needs,” according to Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director. NORML is an organization “Working to Reform Marijuana Laws.”
“Statutory restrictions with regard to herbal preparations of cannabis, home cultivation, and prohibiting the physician-recommended use of cannabis for chronic pain conditions may be politically expedient, but they are neither evidence-based nor patient-centric,” he said.
But what does all of this mean for injured workers? Sarphie, when asked if injured workers are seeking coverage for the drug, said the definitions are pretty specific.
“Not at this point as the medication is not yet available. Even when it does become available the ‘debilitating medical conditions’ are so narrow I do not think that it will come up in comp claims now. Maybe is could be a viable option for someone with seizures from a head injury?” he said.
And what about workers’ comp insurance reimbursement?
“At this point I am not aware of medical marijuana being included in our comp reimbursement schedule. I am not aware of a price being fixed to it under any setting,” Sarphie said.
It looks like coverage potential, if at all, is far out on the perhaps hazy horizon.
“Title 40 (Labor and Employment) in the Louisiana Administrative Code currently does not cover medical marijuana,” according to a representative from the LWC-Office of Workers’ Compensation.
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