While 85% of worker’s compensation claims are attributed to employees slipping on slick floors, Andrew Watson’s situation was a little bit different. He crushed his hand working in the construction sector, but that’s not the only thing that sets his worker’s compensation case apart.
Watson began using medical marijuana back in 2014 after he severely injured his hand in a power saw accident, which occurred years earlier in 2008. After his doctor-prescribed opioids were no longer treating his chronic neuropathic pain, Watson enrolled himself in New Jersey’s state-funded medical marijuana program. He tried to buy more than two ounces of the drug, but when both his insurance and employer refused to pay, Watson contacted the state’s worker’s compensation system.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states and the District of Columbia currently allow medical marijuana use, including New Jersey. But prices differ for each state, and one ounce of cannabis in New Jersey averages at around $498. This price doesn’t account for the state’s 7% sales tax, making it the highest-priced medical marijuana in the nation.
So, in order to stay away from highly addictive opioids, Watson took his case to New Jersey’s Supreme Court, saying that the state’s worker’s compensation program should be held responsible. In a groundbreaking settlement, Judge Ingrid French ruled in favor of Watson, claiming cannabis was “reasonable and necessary” for his pain management. Now, his former employer Gallagher Bassett will be paying for his treatments.
In her final statements, French explained that she passed the ruling because it would reduce his use of oral narcotics, prevent opioid dependence, promote a better quality of life, and provide healing in a holistic way. She explained to NJ.com:
“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.”
In light of this ruling, Watson’s lawyer Phillip Faccenda is quick to explain that his client is not trying to take advantage of New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, but rather get the best care possible without the help of narcotic drugs.
Back in 2010, New Jersey enacted a law that recognizes six diseases that will qualify patients for medical marijuana, so long as they also have a doctor’s prescription. This includes Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, muscular dystrophy, and any other terminal diseases with a life expectancy of less than a year.
It should also be noted that those with HIV or AIDS, seizure disorders including epilepsy, glaucoma, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder can also qualify in special cases. However, they can only be approved for medical marijuana use if conventional treatments have already failed.
The judge’s ruling is expected to have a minimal impact on employers across the state, as the specifications of the 2010 law are very hard to meet. As of right now, representatives for Gallagher Basset have agreed to the ruling, and there will be no appeal.
The only other state where medical marijuana can be covered by worker’s compensation is New Mexico, where one patient’s lawyer argued that the courts made “an important decision for workers so seriously injured they would be bound to a lifetime of narcotic medications.”