Held: NJ Construction Company's Workers Compensation Benefits Must Cover the Costs of Former Employee's Medicinal Marijuana
In a case of first impression in New Jersey, the Appellate Division held that an employer can be ordered to reimburse an injured worker for the costs of purchasing medicinal marijuana in conformity with the workers' compensation act and the medical marijuana act (the "MMA"). In this case the employer argued it could not be ordered to purchase pot for a patient because that would amount to aiding and abetting a crime. However the Appellate Division disagreed and ordered the employer to buy the marijuana for the former employee.
The facts of the matter involved a former construction worker who was injured on the job and suffered some severe spinal injuries. The injuries caused great pain and over the course of a decade and a half, the injured worker had several surgeries to no avail. Eventually the worker was using opioids as the sole form of pain relief. In trying to prevent a cycle of drug abuse, the injured worker sought the assistance of a doctor that specialized in prescribing medical marijuana and received a prescription for same.
Part of the issue is that under Federal Law, marijuana is a Class 1 drug (meaning there is no inherent medicinal benefit through use) and opioids are Class 2 drugs (meaning there is a medicinal benefit with use). New Jersey's MMA creates an affirmative defense to a patient if caught in the State with marijuana. However, the Federal government does not recognize such a defense. In addition, this case turned away a pre-emption challenge (State law vs. Federal law) by the former employer. In doing so the Court weakly pointed to the mere words of this State's Legislature when that body declared that, "compliance with this act does not put the State of New Jersey in violation of federal law." (Vincent Hager v. M & K Construction )
Peter J. Vazquez, Jr.