We live in a world where doctors and patients are both beginning to understand the legitimate medical benefits of marijuana — but also one in which they are still illegal or unlawful to some degree in most of the country. And what do we do at the crossroads of some of these laws? For example, doctors can legally prescribe marijuana in certain states where employers can still fire you for a drug test.
The first thing an employer will do after an accident at work is hit you with a drug test. So what happens when they approve workers comp and your doctor wants to prescribe marijuana — the very thing that would have gotten you fired if the drug test came back positive for THC?
First, it’s important to realize that employers have always had the final say in what and what does not fly in a work environment (unless what they say is illegal). That means even if medical or recreational marijuana are legalized in a particular state, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll ever be okay with your employer. There will always be that annoying little disconnect between a drug test — which tells the employer if a substance is in your blood, urine, hair or saliva — and the fact that you can be stone cold sober at the moment of the test.
The enjoyment of alcohol or marijuana at home doesn’t mean you do them at work, but the employer can still deny or terminate employment if the test comes back positive.
Workers comp cases will likely result in the same kinds of controversy. By 2019, 32 states were already approving medical marijuana. The wave is still rolling across America, and recreational weed is coming with it.
Part of the reason employers can do whatever they like — especially on this particular issue — is because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, just like heroin or meth. That makes it very illegal no matter how many states approve it for the general public.
State courts have determined where some of the lines are drawn, though — so it makes sense to ask a workers comp attorney in your own state if you have questions about the legality of medical marijuana after a workers comp-related injury. Keep in mind that it also makes sense to discuss this sensitive matter with your employer, too. The law might say yes, but if company policy says no, you can still lose your job.
For example, a New Mexican appellate court set the precedent that insurers will have to provide reimbursement even if the injured worker is using medical marijuana to treat the job-related injury. The same precedent was set in New Jersey as far back as 2017. But in Arizona, insurance carriers do not legally have to reimburse patients who are using medical marijuana. The courts there took the position that federal law matters more (even though we’re discussing a legislative body dominated by the conservative think tank, which is supposed to support states’ rights above all else).