In New Jersey, a judge ruled that a local town has to cover a state employee’s medical marijuana expenses. This comes after the town’s insurance provider argued that since marijuana is still federally illegal, it shouldn’t have to pay for cannabis medicine. This is one of a few precedent-setting cases foreshadowing medical marijuana legislation changes, and a big clash between federal and state lawmakers.
New Jersey Town Must Cover Medical Cannabis Treatment
Steven McNeary, who works for Freehold Township, suffers from chronic back pain. He has injured his back several times, first in 2007. After the first two incidents, McNeary still receives disability, though it did not match his previous salary.
In an attempt to remedy his back pain, McNeary had surgery several. He continued to take opiates to cope with the pain for several years. However, with his physician’s guidance, McNeary recently opted to go off opiates, instead of increasing his dosage. He was becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs.
All the while, New Jersey’s medical marijuana program has been booming. McNeary’s lawyer told the judge that his doctor, provided by the state, encouraged McNeary to enroll in the state’s program. Chronic and severe pain are qualifying condition for medical cannabis in New Jersey. However, almost all employers do not cover medical cannabis expenses. As a result, most people like McNeary pay large sums out of power.
Rather than continue to pay the prohibitively high cost of cannabis medicine, McNeary took his employer, Freehold Township, to court. There, the town’s insurance provider, PMA Group, contended that marijuana is still a federally controlled substance. Compensating someone for cannabis would be, according to them, comparable to distributing an illegal substance.
Despite these objections, Judge Lionel Simon decided in McNeary’s favor. A transcript of the court case quotes the Judge as saying, “If there’s anything criminal here, it’s how these drugs have been force fed to injured people creating addicts.”
More Medical Cannabis Cases Will End Up In Court
There is still time for PMA Group to appeal the ruling. And even if they don’t, the Judge’s ruling contradicts earlier workers’ compensation and cannabis cases. For instance, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court sided with Twin Rivers Paper Company in a case brought forth by employee Gaetan Bourgoin. According to the Press Herald, Bourgoin argued that opioid painkillers were not curbing his work injury-related pain and that he needed medical marijuana. The state ruled that it could not override federal drug laws. This meant that Bourgoin’s employer’s insurance provider did not have to cover medical cannabis expenses through their workers’ compensation program.
As cannabis programs expand, and federal and state laws increasingly clash, more cases like McNeary’s and Bourgoin’s will end up in court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to decide what insurance providers are liable to cover. In light of Donald Trump’s nomination of staunch—and most likely weed prohibitionist—conservative Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, a future ruling favor of medical cannabis is unlikely.