Since 1996, twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have passed laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana for specific medical conditions, one of them being chronic pain. However, during this period of time marijuana has remained a Schedule I substance at the federal level, which is defined as the following:
“Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
In the twenty three states where medical marijuana use is allowed, state laws are in direct conflict with federal laws which has caused much confusion. But beyond that, those who suffer from work-related illnesses and injuries are more interested in whether or not the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) will eventually jump on board.
Will medical marijuana be approved for use in Workers’ Compensation cases?
Maybe this sounds like we are jumping the gun, but this concept may not be as far-fetched as we think.
Unfortunately at this juncture, medical marijuana use in workers’ compensation cases is not specifically authorized by law in Washington State.
However, it seems there could possibly be a little room for interpretation and argument based on the following:
The department or self-insurer considers payment for drugs, including biologics and controlled substances, when:
• The drug is used to treat the industrial injury or occupational disease accepted under the claim; and
• The drug is prescribed consistent with the department’s rules, guidelines and coverage decisions, and either:
– The drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for that condition and prescribed in accordance with labeling, or is licensed by a regulatory entity similar to the FDA for workers who reside outside the United States; or
– If the drug is prescribed off-label, the use is supported by published scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness from high quality randomized trials (see WAC 296-20-02704). Off-label is defined as use of a FDA-approved drug for an indication which has not received FDA approval or is otherwise not consistent with the drug labeling.
Since the FDA has not approved medical marijuana for any ailment or condition, coverage decisions will be dependent upon L&I’s and the Washington State Courts’ understanding of WAC 296-20-02704 ,which is the director’s guidelines used to make medical coverage decisions.
In making medical coverage decisions, L&I’s director considers information from a variety of sources. These sources include, but are not limited to:
A recent court decision regarding medical marijuana and a worker’s compensation claim:
“At least one state court has ruled that marijuana can be used to treat a workers’ compensation injury. In New Mexico, a state Court of Appeals reaffirmed that medical marijuana is covered by workers’ compensation, ruling that employers must compensate workers who are medical marijuana patients for the cost of medical marijuana (Lewis v. American General Media). The court concluded that a company had improperly blocked workers’ compensation for medical marijuana for one of its employees who suffered from chronic pain. The court also ruled that federal law classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal substance doesn’t supersede New Mexico’s law allowing marijuana use for medical purposes.”
This is, without a doubt, only the first of many similar cases we are going to see pass through the Washington State court system.
If you have suffered a work-related injury or illness and are seeking a third party liability claim or workers’ compensation benefits, please contact Foster Law, PC to schedule a free initial consultation. We are attorneys in Seattle, Washington with specific expertise in workers’ compensation law and can help ensure that you receive the benefits you deserve. Call 206-682-3436 or use our contact form below for more information.