Companies in New Jersey have to pay
for the medical marijuana of employees receiving worker’s compensation, state
judges said in January 2020.
Worker’s compensation judges in
recent years have sided with medical marijuana patients, including a 2018
decision ruling that Freehold Township had
to reimburse an injured employee’s marijuana prescription. But a Superior Court decision released Monday should put to
rest employers’ arguments that medical marijuana reimbursements violate federal
“To deprive petitioner of the only relief from the constant pain he has
experienced for almost 20 years would eviscerate the principles and goals of
the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,”
Superior Court Judge Heidi Willis Currier wrote in the three-judge panel’s
precedent-setting decision backing Vincent Hager, who was injured in 2001 when
a dump truck dropped concrete on him.
The judges also rejected M&K
Construction’s arguments that it should be treated like private health
insurers, which are not required to reimburse for medical marijuana, and that
marijuana is not a reasonable or necessary pain remedy.
Since his injury at age 28, Hager
spent years getting a series of lumbar surgeries that were unsuccessful at
relieving his pain. He also was prescribed numerous addictive opioid pain
medications, including Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Valium and Lyrica.
In 2016, his doctor prescribed
marijuana, which Hager said relieved some of his pain and allowed him to get
Even with the marijuana, Hager — who
cannot work and lives with his parents — can only bear to stand half an hour or
an hour at a time.
The court opinion noted that he is
prescribed 2 ounces a month at a cost of $616.
Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug,
meaning that federal law considers it one of the worst drugs with no legitimate
medical purpose. But that is not true: 33 states plus the District of Columbia,
Guam and Puerto Rico have medical marijuana programs. New Jersey’s 2010 medical
marijuana law cites copious research backing marijuana’s medicinal benefits.
A medical expert who testified for
the company argued that Hager should be able to deal with the pain, saying:
“Unfortunately, sometimes people have pain.”
The worker’s comp judge in 2018
found that “unacceptable as inhumane and contrary to the law.”
“This court concludes that, if the
only choice […] is between opioids and marijuana, then marijuana is the clearly
indicated option,” the worker’s comp judge said.
The judge in the Freehold Township
case had a more forceful argument for marijuana, saying that opioids were
Currier’s opinion this week said
that that the state’s medical marijuana act was not in conflict with federal
law because the state law does not prevent federal authorities from prosecuting
marijuana crimes. The decision also noted that M&K Construction’s fears
about being prosecuted were unfounded because Congress has prevented the
Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana programs.
The decision also pointed out that
reimbursing a medical marijuana patient does not require a company to break
federal law by possessing, manufacturing or distributing marijuana.