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NM Judge Rules For Workers Compensation Claim on Medical Marijuana

The New Mexico State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a patient who sought reimbursement for medical marijuana under the state’s workers compensation plan. Judge James Wechsler ruled in favor of Sandra Lewis in her workers compensation case against her employer, American General Media. Judge Wechsler upheld a workers compensation judge’s ruling that allowed Ms. Lewis to be reimbursed for her use of medical marijuana under the state’s Medical Cannabis Program.

Details of the Workers Compensation Lawsuit

The workers compensation lawsuit stems from a December 1998 incident, in which Ms. Lewis suffered a serious back injury on the job. Judge Wechlser wrote in his ruling that Ms. Lewis “suffers chronic pain” and “has taken numerous (prescription) drugs”, including painkillers such as oxycodone, Percocet and Soma. Ms. Lewis was approved to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program in 2010. She and other participants use medical marijuana to deal with chronic pain. New Mexico started its medical marijuana program in 2007, one of more than 20 states to offer such treatment options.

Workers Compensation, Chronic Pain and Medical Marijuana

Most state workers compensation programs will approve the use of prescription painkillers, many of which contain dangerous opiates and can be highly addictive. However, even those states that offer medical marijuana programs are hesitant to approve their use for chronic pain. Dr. Carlos Esparza approved Ms. Lewis’ re-enrollment in the state’s medical marijuana program in 2012. He wrote in his workers compensation report that Ms. Lewis suffered from “current unrelieved symptoms” and that the “benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risk” involved with prescription opiates.

Latest Ruling Allows Workers Compensation for Medical Marijuana

Judge Wechlser’s ruling in the workers compensation case has reinforced the state’s stance on the use of medical marijuana in such instances. The ruling is the third since May 2014 involving workers compensation and medical marijuana usage. Last year, an appeals court ruled in favor of a worker injured at his job as an auto mechanic. The employer wanted to deny the mechanic any reimbursement for medical marijuana usage, claiming that such actions would violate federal drug laws. In January 2015, the same court ruled in favor of an injured worker when the employer denied that medical marijuana was part of the worker’s “reasonable and necessary medical care.”

Controversy Surrounds Workers Compensation And Medical Marijuana

With more states establishing either medical marijuana programs or legalizing its recreational use, workers compensation efforts in those states may face some serious legal conflicts. On the federal level, marijuana is considered a “Schedule I” drug, meaning that it has no medical benefits and any research efforts into its therapeutic qualities is banned. However, those attitudes may be softening due to the prevalence of state medical marijuana programs. A 2013 memo from the U.S. Department of Justice stated that the federal government “would generally defer to state and local authorities” on the question of medical marijuana.

Source: Santa Fe New Mexican

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