New Jersey’s Supreme Court recently affirmed an Appellate Division decision, which required that workers’ compensation insurance carriers reimburse workers who use medical marijuana to treat their work-related injuries and illnesses. The Court fond that exempting workers’ compensation insurance carriers from this responsibility would be contrary to the Legislature’s express findings, made in the New Jersey Compassionate Use Act, as well as contrary to the traditional liberal application of the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act.
On April 13, 2021, the Court issued its decision in Hager v. M&K Construction. There, it found that an employer could be ordered to reimburse a petitioner for the cost of medical marijuana. Below, the Judge of Compensation had found in favor of the petition, and ordered the employer to reimburse petitioner’s costs for medical marijuana treatment.
The Court reasoned that medical marijuana can constitute reasonable and necessary care, as it pertained to the petitioner. It also found that the Compassionate Use Act could not require a private health insurer to reimburse a person for costs associated with medical marijuana, but that the legal definition of a “private health insurer” did not apply to workers’ compensation carriers. The Court, therefore, came to the conclusion that employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation are not exempt from the reimbursement requirement.
Lastly, the Court determined that federal law does not preempt New Jersey’s workers’ compensation law, with regard to requiring reimbursement for the costs of medical marijuana. No criminal liability for aiding or abetting a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act – a potential complication when dealing with state regulatory enactments that “legalize” marijuana use, while federal law continues to prohibit it – would exist for workers’ compensation carriers who paid reimbursement costs pursuant to a court order, and as such, that complication was not prohibitive of the Court’s result, either.