New Mexico Ruling Says Workers’ Comp Should Cover Medical Marijuana Program

July 13, 2015

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled that a patient in the state’s medical marijuana program who was injured on the job must be reimbursed by an employer for the expense of marijuana used for treatment.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the recent decision marks the third time since May 2014 that the court has sided with a medical marijuana patient in a workers’ compensation claim.

In the most recent case, appellate Judge James Wechsler wrote that a workers’ compensation judge was correct in ruling that American General Media, which owns several radio stations in New Mexico, had to reimburse Sandra Lewis of Albuquerque.

The company and its third-party workers’ compensation administrator had appealed the 2013 decision by the workers’ compensation judge. Among the arguments, the company said the state’s medical marijuana law created a conflict with federal law that prohibits all use of marijuana.

Wechsler pointed to a 2013 U.S. Department of Justice memo that says when it comes to medical marijuana, the federal government would generally defer to state and local authorities.

Lewis injured her back on the job in December 1998. Several surgeries followed but none alleviated her chronic pain. In 2010, Lewis was accepted into the state’s medical marijuana program to treat her chronic pain.

In January, the Court of Appeals overturned the decision of a workers’ compensation judge who had ruled that medical marijuana didn’t constitute “reasonable and necessary medical care” for a Farmington man with work-related back injuries.

And in May 2014, the court upheld a decision by a workers’ compensation judge that required an automotive repair shop in Santa Fe and its insurance company to reimburse Gregory Vialpando for the costs of marijuana to treat his chronic back pain.

As in the recent case, the court rejected the repair shop’s argument that it would be required to violate federal law by paying for the marijuana.

New Mexico started its medical marijuana program in 2007, although pot remains illegal under federal law. About 13,000 patients are enrolled.

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