Costs specific to the state sanctioned use of medical cannabis are eligible for reimbursement under workers’ compensation laws, according to a ruling handed down Friday by a Pennsylvania Appellate Court.
Justices determined that the Workers’ Compensation (WC) Appeal Board erred in denying the plaintiff’s claim and reversed their decision. Writing for the court, Judge Anne Covey opined: “Employer’s failure to reimburse Claimant’s out-of-pocket costs for medical marijuana to treat his work-related injury is a violation of the WC [Workers’ Compensation] Act. … The MMA [Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act] specifically mandates that no medical marijuana patients be denied any rights for lawful use of medical marijuana and the WC Act provides employees a statutory right to WC medical expenses that are reasonable and necessary to treat a work injury; therefore, if this Court was to agree with Employer, it would be removing those express protections from the MMA and the WC Act.
She concluded, “Given the General Assembly’s clear declaration and intention in enacting the MMA, and the MMA’s unambiguous statutory language, it is free from doubt that the medical marijuana system the General Assembly created for the well-being and safety of patients, including claimants, was intended for them to have access to the latest medical treatments.”
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano described the Appellate Court’s ruling as further evidence of the legitimacy and social acceptance of medical cannabis. “For millions of patients, cannabis is a legitimate therapeutic option. More and more, lawmakers, regulators, and the courts are recognizing this fact and evolving their opinions and policies accordingly.”
The ruling is the latest of many divergent opinions on the issue. Five states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York – explicitly allow for employees to have their medical cannabis expenses reimbursed. By contrast, seven states expressly prohibit workers’ compensation insurance from reimbursing medical marijuana-related costs: Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Florida, North Dakota, Ohio, and Washington. Other states are silent on the issue.
Last year, justices on the US Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the issue of whether employees can be reimbursed for their medical marijuana-related costs through their workers’ compensation insurance plans. Empire State NORML and two other groups – the New York City Cannabis Industry Association and the Hudson Valley Cannabis Industry – filed a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief urging justices to take the case and to use it as an opportunity to settle broader conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws.
The case is Sheetz v. Firestone Tire & Rubber (Workers’ : Compensation Appeal Board).