MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Injury Workers Compensation does not apply to medical marijuana because the drug remains illegal under federal law, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.
The state supreme court issued a couple of rulings that overturned previous decisions by the State Court of Appeals for Compensation, which ordered employers to pay for medical marijuana to treat work-related injuries.
The Supreme Court ruled that federal law, which prohibits the prescribing and possession of marijuana regardless of state laws permitting it, prohibits employers from paying for medical cannabis.
Assistant Judge G. Barry Anderson, writing for the majority, wrote that the proper remedy would be for Congress to pass and sign a law to resolve conflicts between state and federal laws by the President.
The court noted that Congress had barred the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws and that the federal government’s position on the prosecution of marijuana-related offenses was “in a state of change.” But it says possession remains illegal under federal law, so requiring employers to pay for medical cannabis is criminalized as aiding and abetting possession.
In a couple of controversies, Assistant Judge Margaret Chutich wrote that the implications of the decisions are to prevent “injured workers who are suffering from overwhelming pain from getting the relief that medical cannabis can bring.” She said this undermines the Legislature’s goal of workers compensation for quickly and efficiently providing health benefits to injured workers at a reasonable cost to employers.
The cases involved a Mendota Heights dental hygienist who sustained a neck injury at work and an employee of a Prior Lake outdoor equipment seller who suffered an ankle injury when an ATV ran over him. Both workers were certified by doctors to use medical marijuana after other treatments for pain, including opioids, were inadequate.
Minnesota has allowed medical cannabis since 2015, but has some of the country’s strictest regulations. Currently, the state only allows oral, vapor, and topical forms, and health insurance companies do not cover this. This keeps costs high for patients.
However, this is about to change. The Legislature earlier this year relaxed the law to allow medical marijuana smoking from next spring. This change is expected to reduce costs and triple or quadruple the number of patients using it.
Earlier this year, the Democratic-controlled Minnesota House voted to legalize recreational marijuana, but the proposal fell short of support in the GOP-controlled Senate. This issue is expected to re-emerge in the 2022 season and campaign season.