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NJ Bill Would Make Medical Marijuana Expenses Eligible for Workers' Compensation

On Monday, October 26, New Jersey lawmakers took another step to advance a measure that would make medical marijuana expenses eligible for workers’ compensation and other insurance coverage.

The measure (A1708) would require workers’ compensation and personal injury protection (PIP) auto insurance to cover medical marijuana under certain circumstances. It would also require beneficiaries to be enrolled in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.

The state Assembly appropriation committee’s vote was a long-anticipated follow-up to the state Assembly committee on financial institutions’ approval of the measure in February. The Legislature was unable to revisit the bill until late October due to delays caused by COVID-19.

Medical Marijuana & Workers’ Compensation in New Jersey

In the latest version of the bill, lawmakers removed a provision that would have required patients to try at least one other type of treatment before turning to medical marijuana.

Another amendment was added to clear up confusion created by the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, stating that insurers do not have to cover medical cannabis costs if federal the government steps in to enforce its prohibition.

While insurance carriers have expressed concern over covering expenses for marijuana given its dubious legal status at the federal level, there is precedent for workers’ comp coverage of medical marijuana in New Jersey.

In January, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division upheld a lower court’s decision ordering an employer to reimburse an employee for prescribed medical marijuana used to treat chronic pain following a work-related injury. The worker opted for medical marijuana after he had become dependent on opioids.

In the opinion, the Court noted:

  • Reimbursing a person for medical marijuana is permissible; and
  • The use of medicinal cannabis can be a reasonable and necessary form of treatment for injured workers.

While the measure still requires approval from the state Senate and the full Assembly, and an endorsement by the governor, the prospects are promising.

Support for medical cannabis-friendly laws is growing – particularly in light of America’s long-standing opioid crisis. Following the 2020 election, during which New Jersey legalized marijuana, 35 states have now legalized the use of medicinal cannabis, and 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Federal lawmakers have been working to pass legislation that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

Levinson Axelrod, P.A. will continue to track the New Jersey Legislature’s work on this important bill, and is available to discuss matters of workers’ compensation and potential claims across the state with workers and their families. To request a free case review, contact us.

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