Court: Maine Employers Can ‘Just Say No’ to Injured Workers’ Medical Pot

The Maine supreme court has that ruled employers aren’t required to cover medical marijuana through the state workers’ compensation system. The 5-2 decision disappointed many worker advocates who had been following the case closely. Justices ruled that in a conflict between federal law considering marijuana a dangerous and addictive substance and Maine’s state medical marijuana law, the federal law takes precedence.

This means that people injured on-the-job in Maine are going to need to either accept an alternative medication for their treatment or else pay for their medical marijuana out-of-pocket. Injured workers should be mindful, though, because the federal precedent also allows employers to take employment action against workers who use marijuana, even with a prescription. While this is troubling in itself, employees accepting workers’ compensation may need to be especially cautious, given that as a whole, they are more likely to be targeted for retaliation from employers for reporting work injuries, seeking treatment for on-the-job accidents or reporting job site safety violations.

Workers’ compensation attorneys in Bangor recognize that an increasing number of injured workers in Maine have been relying on medical marijuana for a number of work-related injury conditions, from chronic pain relief to anxiety and depression. There is a growing body of independent evidence that the drug is effective in treating a number of conditions. However, its history as a Schedule I narcotic has made it a difficult subject of study. Marijuana has been hailed as much safer alternative to powerfully addictive opioid narcotics, prescribed to many injured workers in Maine for months and sometimes years after injury.

In a case before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Bourgoin v. Twin Rivers Paper Co. LLC, the plaintiff worker was a paper machine laborer until a work accident in 1989 resulted in a back injury and his receiving a status of total disability from workers’ compensation. His employer (subsequently acquired by a different company) sought three times to reduce his incapacity rating, but it was denied each time. In the course of being treated for severe chronic pain syndrome, he received a variety of treatments – including opioid prescriptions. He reportedly suffered adverse side effects to the opioid medications (the details of which are not described) and on the advice of his physician, he stopped using the narcotic.

Six years ago, he obtained a prescription for medical marijuana, which he has since used to manage his chronic pain.

Soon thereafter, he filed a petition with the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board, seeking payment for the cost of his medical marijuana prescription. His former employer opposed the petition on the grounds that the drug was barred by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C.S. s. 801-904, despite the fact that its use was permitted by state law. The hearing officer in the case granted the worker’s petition, and the appellate court affirmed. The Maine supreme court, however, vacated.

The court held that federal law bars the use of marijuana before state law. This is an issue that has come into question nationally in many other states that have allowed use of the drug in direct conflict with federal law. Justices agreed that if the employer were to comply with a court order to pay for the worker’s medical marijuana, it would in effect be committing criminal aiding and abetting, as outlined in federal statutes.

If you are seeking Maine workers’ compensation following a work injury, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Employer not obligated to pay for medical pot: Maine high court, June 14, 2018, Business Insurance

More Blog Entries:

Fall Accidents a Common Cause of Employee Injuries in Maine, June 8, 2018, Bangor Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog

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