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Insurer says it shouldn’t have to pay for medical marijuana

The Maine supreme court is wading into the issue of medical marijuana and workers’ compensation

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine supreme court on Wednesday began considering whether a paper millworker left suicidal by narcotic painkillers should receive workers’ compensation for medical marijuana.

It’s the first time the court has considered the question of insurance reimbursement for medical marijuana.

Madawaska resident Gaetan Bourgoin won a ruling from the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board two years ago saying the paper mill’s insurer must reimburse him for medical marijuana. He contends marijuana is cheaper and safer than narcotics.

But Twin Rivers Paper Co. and its insurer appealed the ruling, arguing that paying for pot use, even for medical purposes, could expose the companies to prosecution since marijuana still is illegal at the federal level.

With medical marijuana legal in Washington, D.C. and 29 states, insurers across the country have been confronted with the same dilemma. Uneven state laws on reimbursement further complicate the issue.

Five states — Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico — have found medical marijuana treatment is reimbursable under their workers compensation laws, according to the National Council for Compensation Insurance. Florida and North Dakota, meanwhile, passed laws this year excluding medical marijuana treatment from workers’ compensation reimbursement.

Members of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court posed hypotheticals to the attorneys arguing the case. One asked Bourgoin’s attorney what he’d do if a client needed cocaine for pain treatment, and another asked Twin Rivers’ attorney whether she believes the federal government will start prosecuting insurers for medical marijuana reimbursement.

Justice Donald Alexander repeatedly questioned whether marijuana use should remain illegal under federal law and contrasted the drug with opioid-based painkillers, which he said drug companies have lobbied Congress to protect.

“Opioids are killing people every day in Maine,” he said.

Bourgoin’s case dates to 1989, when he hurt his back as a 29-year-old at the paper mill now known as Twin Rivers.

His attorney, Norman Trask, said Bourgoin pays for medical marijuana out-of-pocket and receives reimbursement from Twin Rivers’ insurer. Bourgoin previously took opioid-based painkillers, which caused other problems.

“At one point he was on such high dosages that they were concerned about his oxygen levels at night,” Trask said. “He became suicidal.”

Twin Rivers attorney Anne-Marie Storey said paying for medical marijuana puts the company in violation of federal law. The company contends that Maine’s medical marijuana law does not explicitly require an insurer to cover the cost of medical marijuana.

“This is not a case about making judgment over whether someone should use or not use marijuana as a matter of personal choice,” she said. There’s a scarcity of research on medical marijuana, and “nobody knows” how safe it is, she said.

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Medical marijuana patient wins employment discrimination suit in Rhode Island

 

This April 15, 2017 file photo shows marijuana plants on display at a medical marijuana provider in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

 

By Andrew Blake – The Washington Times – Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Rhode Island fabrics company violated the state’s medical marijuana law when it refused to hire a card-carrying patient who couldn’t pass a drug test, a state Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.

Christine Callaghan sued Darlington Fabrics Corp. for compensatory and punitive damages in 2014 after the company said her medical marijuana usage precluded it from offering her a paid internship position while she pursued a master’s degree at the University of Rhode Island. Ms. Callaghan promised not to bring weed into the workplace or arrive for work stoned, but Darlington said her failure to pass a pre-employment drug test prohibited her hiring, according to court filings.

In a 32-page ruling Tuesday, Associate Justice Richard A. Licht said Darlington broke the state’s Hawkins-Slater Medical Marijuana Act by rejecting Ms. Callaghan because she legally uses pot to treat migraine headaches in accodance with state law.

“Employment is neither a right nor a privilege in the legal sense,” Judge Licht ruled, but protection under the law is, he added.

While employers aren’t required to accommodate the medical use of cannabis in the workplace under Hawkins-Slater, the ruling noted, the law specifies that “no school, employer or landlord may refuse to reenroll, employ or lease to or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a cardholder.”

Darlington had argued that it rejected Ms. Callaghan not because her status as a medical marijuana cardholder but her inability to pass a drug test. The judge called his claim “incredulous” in Tuesday’s ruling and took aim at its interpretation of the state’s medical marijuana law.

“This argument is not convincing,” he wrote, adding: “…it is absurd to think that the General Assembly wished to extend less protection to those suffering with debilitating conditions and who are the focus of the [act].”

“The recreational user could cease smoking long enough to pass the drug test and get hired… allowing him or her to smoke recreationally to his or her heart’s content,” he continued. “The medical user, however, would not be able to cease for long enough to pass the drug test, even though his or her use is necessary…”

More than 17,000 Rhode Islanders are currently members of the state’s medical marijuana program, the Providence Journal reported. While most of those individuals are patients who use marijuana to treat covered medical conditions, that number also includes people categorized as official “caregivers,” the newspaper reported.

“This decision sends a strong message that people with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities because of the medication they take,” Carly Beauvais Iafrate, a volunteer American Civil Liberties Union attorney and Ms. Callaghan’s legal counsel, said in a statement after Tuesday’s ruling.

Darlington plans to appeal the ruling before the state Supreme Court, defense attorney Meghan Siket told the Journal. Neither the company nor its lawyer was immediately available to comment Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Medical marijuana laws are currently on the books in 29 states and Washington, D.C., including Rhode Island, notwithstanding the federal government’s prohibition on pot.

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