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Knowledge Center Items Update: In the Weeds of Changing Cannabis Laws, Impact on Workers’ Compensation

Update: In the Weeds of Changing Cannabis Laws, Impact on Workers’ Compensation

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More than two and half years ago we addressed some of the issues related to Workers’ Compensation insurance as increasingly more states adopt new laws regarding medical and recreational marijuana use. Since then, an additional 10 states have passed legislation for a total of 33 along with the District of Columbia that have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form or another. Social acceptance of the drug is at an all-time high, too. A Pew Research report released in October 2018 showed 62% of Americans support marijuana legalization, up a percentage point from 2017. The majority of respondents’ credit medical use as a driving factor for their support. However, it’s important to note that marijuana still remains a Schedule One substance on the federal level.

“What we’re seeing is a popular surge in growing acceptance of marijuana in that it’s more mainstream,” noted Marcos Iglesias, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Broadspire, and one of this year’s National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference® speakers, in an article in Risk & Insurance.  He cautions, however, that research into the medical benefits of marijuana should not yet be considered complete: “In my own experience in the last year, I’ve seen some seasoned claims professionals open to the idea [of medical marijuana use in Workers’ Comp,] but they’re uninformed on the science behind it. “Research into the medical effects of any drug is going to take a long time. With marijuana, it’s something that’s been illegal for so long and it’s been hard to research [because of its illegality].”

The fact is that the area of medical marijuana and Workers’ Compensation indeed remains murky, and has created a real gray area for carriers. As a result, the courts have been forced to navigate the complicated intersection where some states have given medical marijuana the green light while the federal government still considers cannabis illegal. Payers are asking themselves: Do we pay for medical marijuana? In June 2018, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court answered the question, ruling that an employer does not have to pay for the medical marijuana. But later that same month, a New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation judge ruled that the opposite is true. In October, a New Jersey lawmaker introduced a bill that would require Workers’ Compensation insurers to pay for medical marijuana — it did not leave committee.

There is even more worry regarding Workers’ Comp when it comes to recreational use of marijuana with 10 of the 33 states now legalizing its use for recreational purposes. As opioid use decreases, there has been an upward swing in positive marijuana testing in the workplace, according to a Quest Diagnostic report. This is of particular concern in safety-sensitive positions such as pilots, rail, bus and truck drivers; and employees in nuclear power pants. The Quest Diagnostic report showed marijuana use at such worksites increased by eight percent from 2013 to 2017.

In addition, there is some debate as to whether the growing acceptance of marijuana as a recreational substance serves to undermine the argument that it should be perceived as medicine.

We will continue to monitor the impact of marijuana on Workers’ Compensation insurance as individual cases play out in the court. RPS provides its agency partners with Workers’ Comp insurance solutions – from guaranteed cost plans to large deductible programs, and excess coverage – for a wide range of industries. We can also assist you with safety plans and return to work programs. Contact us for more information.


Sources: Business Insider, Risk & Insurance, Business Insurance

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