Can Taking Medical Marijuana Affect Federal Benefits?

Although some states have legalized recreational marijuana and an even greater number have legalized medical marijuana, the drug remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level — which means its sale and distribution are completely locked down at the federal level. We’ve received a number of inquiries from readers who are worried that they might lose access to their federal benefits — such as social security disability — if they continue to take medical marijuana, even though it’s legal where they reside.

Nearly half of the states have legalized medical marijuana. The Obama administration continued to allow states to regulate the drug on their own, although he did take some action to crack down on some dispensaries — most notably those along the Californian coast and in LA. Trump has done little to ease federal restrictions. Some believe that a Biden administration would end federal regulation once and for all.

For now, there are no definitive answers except that “it depends.” Is marijuana a factor that contributes to your disability? If the Social Security Administration can find a way to argue that the answer to that question is “yes,” then it can deny an application or revoke benefits that have already been approved. The answer should be “no” if you are only treating the condition with marijuana, so…in theory, your benefits should be safe.

Although that is the SSA’s official stance on drugs and alcohol, the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level means that the organization can basically do whatever it wants if you’re a user. That means you should be careful not to aggravate the wrong people — because they could decide to make your life more difficult.

Because this is the case, medical users are generally urged to request both legal and medical advice before putting in a social security disability application. Your lawyer and doctor can make sure that you provide all the relevant information to the SSA without error, which increases the odds that the application will eventually be approved. And remember: even without medical marijuana, these applications can take years to be approved. You’re in for a wait either way.

There is good news for those who are worried that their benefits might be denied because of marijuana: several states have enacted disability-discrimination laws to protect medical users. These laws make it far more difficult for anyone to trounce on your rights, even at the federal level.

But there’s also some bad news for those who are still employed even with the disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects your rights as a worker in that your employer must reasonably accommodate you. However, because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, your employer can still terminate your employment if you fail a drug test or admit to using. This is true whether you’re a recreational or medical user since neither category is protected under federal law.

At the end of the day, just make sure you act prudently before taking any next steps. Seek out qualified legal and medical advice before applying for your benefits.