Medical treatments for work-related injuries evolve over time. Consistent with the national trend toward validating medical marijuana, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that an employer must reimburse an injured construction worker for the costs of medical marijuana used to treat a work-related injury under the state’s workers’ compensation law.
The 28-year-old worker was injured at a construction site in 2001 when a concrete delivery truck dumped its load on him. He suffered a significant L5-S1 herniated disc and an L4-L5 annular bulge.
Over 15 years, he received treatments from a chiropractor, physical therapist, two neurosurgeons, spinal surgeon, pain management doctor and a hospice and palliative care doctor. He also underwent back surgeries.
After these treatments failed to provide pain relief, his physicians prescribed opioids such as oxycodone, oxycontin and valium. He became addicted to these drugs.
To get the claimant off opioids, his doctor qualified him for and gave him a prescription for medical marijuana. This gave him some relief. The worker needed medical marijuana for the rest of his life to control his pain and provide relief that is less physically addictive than opioids, according to his doctor’s opinion.
The workers’ compensation judge order the employer to reimburse the worker $616 per month for future out-of-pocket costs for medical marijuana. The employer later appealed.
The appellate court judge rejected the employer’s arguments that requiring reimbursement for medical marijuana violated the federal controlled substances act because the employer would not be possessing, manufacturing or distributing marijuana. There was also no evidence that the federal government would enforce this law to prosecute the use of medical marijuana in any state that legalized this use. Finally, reimbursement for medical marijuana was justified by the opioid crisis.
This ruling could open the door to treatment of many work injuries with medical marijuana. An attorney can assist workers who are injured at work seek compensation and reimbursement for new, effective and recognized treatments.