Minnesota’s high court ruled this week that medical marijuana cannot be covered under workers’ compensation.
In a pair of decisions handed down last Wednesday, the state’s Supreme Court said that the federal prohibition on cannabis precludes employers from being required to cover medical marijuana treatment for employees who have been injured.
“If federal law preempts state law in this specific instance, then an employer cannot be ordered to reimburse an injured employee for the cost of medical cannabis used to treat the effects of a work-related injury,” Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote for the majority.
With the rulings on Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court “overturned earlier decisions by the state Workers Compensation Court of Appeals’ that ordered employers to pay for medical marijuana to treat work-related injuries,” according to the Associated Press.
The cases “involved a Mendota Heights dental hygienist who suffered an on-the-job neck injury and an employee at a Prior Lake outdoor equipment dealer who suffered an ankle injury when an ATV rolled over it,” according to the Associated Press, both of whom “were certified by their doctors to use medical marijuana after other treatments to control their pain, including opioids, proved inadequate.”
The decision captures what has been a defining tension in this era of legalization in the United States: even as dozens of states have moved to end the prohibition on pot, weed remains banned under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“We recognize that the federal government’s position on criminal prosecution of cannabis offenses has been in a state of flux for over a decade. At one point, the United States Department of Justice announced that it would not prosecute cannabis offenses under the CSA when a cannabis user complies with state law, but the Department later rescinded those directions,” Anderson wrote. “Further, Congress has prohibited the Department of Justice from using allocated funds to prevent states from implementing medical cannabis laws.”
Anderson wrote that the court concluded “that mandating Mendota Heights to pay for Musta’s medical cannabis, by way of a court order, makes Mendota Heights criminally liable for aiding and abetting the possession of cannabis under federal law.”
“We agree that if the result here is not beneficial to the employee, the remedy is for Congress to pass, and the President to sign, legislation that addresses the preemption issues created by the conflict between federal and state law,” the justice wrote.
There are growing signs that Congress is ready to do just that. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this year that Democrats on Capitol Hill were eager to pursue legislation ending the prohibition—with or without President Joe Biden.
“We will move forward,” Schumer said at the time. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”
Schumer, whose home state of New York legalized marijuana earlier this year, noted the changing attitudes and policies toward pot as a motivating factor in pursuing the legislation.
“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up.
“Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer said in an interview with Politico. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”
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