RIMS: Panel Discusses Legalized Marijuana’s Impact on the Workplace

May 8, 2015

The growing trend of states working to legalize medical marijuana has created challenges in the workplace. However, there are opportunities to implement best practices to manage the use of medical marijuana in workers’ compensation, according to Kevin Glennon, RN, vice president of Clinical Education and Quality Assurance Programs at One Call Care Management.

Glennon spoke on the panel, “Legalized Marijuana: Its Impact on the Workplace,” for the 2015 Risk Management Society Conference held in New Orleans last week.

Among the challenges are the conflicts between state and federal laws, lack of evidence for the efficacy of medical marijuana, and risks posed to employee safety.medical marijuana

“In workers’ compensation, medical marijuana is predominantly requested to manage pain,” noted Glennon. “However, payers rely on evidence-based guidelines when making coverage decisions. Without FDA approval or a large-scale randomized, controlled human trial to demonstrate medical value, many payers are choosing to categorically deny coverage of medical marijuana. It’s a catch-22: lack of evidence continues to hamper adoption, and yet clinical trials are not permitted under current federal law.”

At the federal level, marijuana is categorized as an illegal substance, and it is not FDA approved to treat any medical condition. Despite these restrictions, in the 23 states and the District of Columbia where medical marijuana is now legal, it is recommended for many medical purposes.

In certain cases, court rulings could force carriers to cover medical marijuana for treatment. Glennon pointed to a New Mexico case, in which a court ruled that a workers’ compensation carrier must reimburse a 55-year-old former mechanic for medical marijuana used to alleviate pain from a work-related back injury. The ruling circumvented the carrier from directly paying for an illegal drug.

Glennon delivered an overview of state legalization trends and the issues related to the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of injured workers. Colorado state risk manager Markie Davis also participated, sharing Colorado’s experience with legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use and insights into the potential impact to the workplace.

Glennon identified potential risks for payers that do cover the use of medical marijuana for workers’ compensation cases. Although effects differ by individual and are dependent on use and dosage, they may include mental health issues, delays in return to work, diminished levels of productivity, and safety hazards, especially if users operate heavy machinery or drive vehicles.

The conflict between state and federal law will eventually need to be resolved, particularly for drug-free workplace and employment policies. In the meantime, organizations should stay abreast of new cases, judgments, and verdicts that could forecast further impact on policies.

Source: One Call Care Management

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