Supreme Court Asked to Resolve Federal Drug Law v. State Medical Marijuana Laws Debate

Supreme Court Asked to Resolve Federal Drug Law v. State Medical Marijuana Laws Debate

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to address whether the federal drug law that criminalizes possession of marijuana invalidates state orders requiring employers and their
workers’ compensation insurers to pay for medical marijuana prescriptions for employees injured on the job.

However, before it fully takes on the question, the high court has asked the Solicitor General, who represents the federal government before the high court, for guidance in light of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that gives federal statutes primacy over state laws.

Five state supreme courts have addressed whether the reimbursement of medical marijuana costs is permissible, with two ruling yes and three ruling no. The Supreme Court is being asked to resolve this split in authority. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana is a criminal offense, with the exception of when the drug is part of a Food and Drug Administration research study.

The Supreme Court’s involvement is related to two cases from Minnesota— Bierbach v. Diggers Polaris and State Auto/United Fire & Casualty, and Musta v. Mendota Heights Dental Center — in which injured employees challenged their employers and their insurers for refusing to reimburse them for their medical marijuana prescriptions. Musta suffered a neck

injury in her work at a medical facility; Bierbach was injured in an accident while working for an all-terrain vehicle dealer.

Minnesota authorized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2014. Under the state’s medical marijuana act, the Minnesota Department of Health administers a program that permits certain registered patients to possess marijuana for medical purposes. Under Minnesota’s workers’ compensation statute, if an employee sustains an injury at work, “[t]he employer shall furnish any medical … treatment, including… medicines … as may reasonably be required at the time of the injury and any time thereafter to cure and relieve from the effects of the injury.”

Minnesota’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Court ruled in Bierbach’s favor that the employer and insurer were required to reimburse him because the prescribed medical marijuana was a reasonable treatment for the workers’ injuries. But the insurer and employer appealed and a divided Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the opposite, finding that the CSA preempts the Minnesota workers’ compensation court’s order mandating reimbursement.

Minnesota’s high court adopted the same reasoning in both the Bierbach and Musta opinions, finding that the reimbursement could expose the employer and insurer to criminal liability. The court reasoned that the CSA preempted an order “obligat[ing] an employer to reimburse an employee for the cost of medical cannabis because compliance with that order would expose the employer to criminal liability under federal law for aiding and abetting …unlawful possession of cannabis.” read more.

Source: Insurance Journal Vol. 100 No.4 pg. 15,16