Safety National recently hosted a webinar dedicated to the constantly evolving medical marijuana sector and its effect on workers’ compensation programs. Mark Walls of Safety National hosted the event, which included discussion of how medical marijuana programs must evolve given the drug’s rising profile, plus its current legal status.
Elizabeth Shocklee, Member of St. Louis-based firm Evans & Dixon LLC, began by discussing recent state Supreme Court cases in Maine, New Mexico and New Jersey, all of which granted the injured worker reimbursement for medical marijuana. “In all of these cases, it’s important to note that the judges were not persuaded by a couple of arguments,” Shocklee explained. “They were not persuaded that marijuana is illegal under federal law and they were not persuaded that it isn’t reasonable and necessary.”
Walls, Shocklee, and third presenter Sherri Hicky, who runs Safety National’s medical management department, all agreed that carriers need to get into the habit of anticipating these types of decisions and develop policy around them, even though many states, including Louisiana, have very restrictive medical marijuana laws.
However, as Hicky indicated in the webinar, there could be benefits for workers’ comp carriers in medical marijuana treatment if it’s juxtaposed with opioids.
“The states that allow medical marijuana have in some cases 25 percent fewer deaths from opioids,” Hicky said. “What that tells me is that they’ve moved over to the marijuana and consumed fewer opioids.” However, she also noted that marijuana “is not the be-all end-all to replace opioids.” Shocklee added: “If this is in your state and the courts are saying that you have to do this, it’s time to embrace it, figure it out, and also try to control it.
Regarding control, Hicky explained that there are ways to get the treatment delivered without bumping up against federal laws. “We’re working with a third party [for marijuana claims with Safety National] that is a grower, producer, and manufacturer of the products for medical marijuana,” she explained. “They act as an intermediary where we can pay them for what this injured worker is going to need, and they’ll box it up and deliver it every month.”
National companies generally seem to understand the gravity of the movement toward legalization, at least for medical purposes. Karen Thomas, Director of Case Management Innovation for CorVel Corporation states that they are “vigilantly monitoring clinical studies and changes in state legislation on this very topic, given the rising tide of activity and research in this area.”
Louisiana’s medical marijuana law, in contrast to states like California, only allows the use of non-smokeable cannabis oil for a very limited range of conditions including HIV/AIDS, cancer, wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. However, the possibility of a rare workers’ comp case that could lead to the treatment does exist. We reached out to local comp companies to see if they have policies in place.
Troy Prevot, Executive Vice President of LCTA Workers’ Comp explained that they have not yet developed a policy but may be forced to do so in the future. “I do agree this is the tip of the iceberg to ultimate legalization,” he said. “If it’s prescribed and is evidence-based we owe it. My bigger concern is the impairment and safety sensitive issues when they are working while receiving the prescribed version and in the future if they are legally using it.”
Kelli Troutman, speaking on behalf of LUBA Workers’ Comp, had a similar wait-and-see approach. “We are keeping a close eye on how the legalization of medical marijuana develops in the state of Louisiana,” she said. “Currently we are not seeing it used in workers’ comp claims, but should that change the impact (and our policy) will ultimately be determined by how the law is written.”
Echoing Prevot on impairment concerns on the job, Troutman added: “A scenario in which a worker using medically prescribed marijuana is legally allowed to report to work is vastly different from that same worker having to remain home while in treatment. As with any other prescription drug, we will look to the Louisiana Office of Workers’ Compensation to outline specific uses in their medical treatment guidelines. As with any case, the more detail they can include in the guidelines, the better.”
The LSU AgCenter contracted with Las Vegas-based GS Sciences this year to produce medical marijuana for qualified patients in Louisiana. Distribution is expected to begin within the next two years.
Image Credit: Medicinal Marijuana Association