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Is Medical Marijuana the ‘Next Big Thing’ for Workers Injured on the Job?

 The state of New Jersey passed a medical marijuana law back in 2010. When the law was enacted, it named six specific conditions for which the use of medical marijuana can be prescribed by a physician. These include Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis); terminal cancer; inflammatory bowel diseases including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; and any illness for which the prognosis is less than a year. It is also available for those with HIV and AIDS where severe and chronic pain, nausea, vomiting and wasting syndrome are present, people who have epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable skeletal muscular spasticity where traditional treatments have not worked. The law specifically does not require insurance companies to cover the costs of the medical marijuana, and that’s a good thing, as the prices in New Jersey are higher than anywhere else in the country. But a recent case involving workers’ compensation resulted in a groundbreaking ruling in which a state administrative law judge decided that a South Jersey man whose doctor prescribed the drug could have it paid for by his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.

Though this case is by no means expected to make a change to the medical marijuana law in the state of New Jersey, the ruling in the case of Andrew Watson is notable. The man suffered a hand injury while working for 84 Lumber. He had been taking the opioid Percocet when his physician prescribed him the marijuana, but when he found that workers’ compensation would not pay for it, he discontinued its use. The workers’ compensation judge in the case noted that “the effects of the marijuana, in many ways, is not as debilitating as the effects of the Percocet. The pharmacy records show that, ultimately, he was able to reduce his use of oral narcotic medication.” Administrative Law Judge Ingrid L. French continued, “As a result of his improved pain management, he has achieved a greater level of functionality…. His approach to his pain management needs is cautious, mature and overall he is exceptionally conscientious in managing his pain. The evidence presented in these proceedings show that the petitioner’s ‘trial’ use of medicinal marijuana has been successful. While the court is sensitive to the controversy surrounding the medicinal use of marijuana, whether or not it should be prescribed for a patient in a state where it is legal to prescribe it is a medical decision that is within the boundaries of the laws in the state.”

Though some may hope that this case will be precedent setting and that medical marijuana will be the next big thing for workers who are injured on the job, that is not expected to be the case. Physicians in the state of New Jersey are cautious in prescribing the substance, and that is expected to continue. Still, in cases where a physician with the authority to prescribe medical marijuana does so in cases where an employee is injured on the job, a knowledgeable and experienced workers’ compensation attorney may be able to help you get compensation for whatever medication you have been prescribed. For information about your own eligibility, contact the attorneys at Malamut & Associates, LLC.