The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to review a pair of decisions by the Minnesota Supreme Court that held employers cannot be required to reimburse workers for marijuana used to treat on-the-job injuries because the substance is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
An insurer that otherwise would have been required to pay for an injured worker’s marijuana had urged the court to let the Minnesota decisions stand. The US Solicitor General’s Office also argued that federal law preempts any state regulation requiring reimbursement for an illegal drug.
“Respondents agree that ‘[t]he judgments below are correct for the straightforward reason that when a federal law such as the CSA prohibits possession of a particular item, it preempts a state law requiring a private party to subsidize the purchase of that item,'” attorney Susan K.H. Conley, representing State Auto/ United Fire & Casualty Group, said in a June 2 brief to the court.
Conley declined to comment on the decision after being contacted by the Claims Journal.
Injured workers are increasingly turning to marijuana to treat pain as insurers and regulators cracked down on the overuse of prescription opioids which led to an epidemic of abuse. And states that have steadily moved to legalize use of the substances even for recreational purposes are becoming more tolerant.
New Mexico was the first of five states where courts ordered workers’ compensation insurers to reimburse injured workers for marijuana. The Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Review Board, an appellate court in New York and the supreme courts in New Hampshire and New Jersey followed.
In two separate cases heard last year, the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals ordered employers to reimburse injured workers Daniel Bierbach and Susan K. Musta for marijuana used to treat their at-work injuries, citing state workers’ compensation statute that requires employers to provide necessary medical treatment. But the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in October that federal law preempts any state statute that requires employers to pay for an illegal drug.
In February, the Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General’s Office to state its position on the question of preemption. In a brief filed on May 16, the office urged the court to let the Minnesota decisions stand without review.
The office acknowledged that Congress since 2014 has passed successive appropriations bills that prohibit the US Justice Department from enforcing the federal law that bars possession of marijuana in states that have legalized it, but marijuana has not been removed from the controlled substance list and remains illegal.
The office told the high court there’s no reason to hear the Minnesota decisions.
“If states could enforce laws compelling third parties to subsidize federal crimes, they could directly undermine congressional determinations,” the brief says. “For example, no legal principle would preclude a state from requiring private employers to reimburse the use of other federally prohibited products or substances, such as LSD and other psychedelic drugs, based on perceived benefits.”
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