February 18, 2022

Marijuana: States Move Forward Medically and Recreationally, But Oppose Reimbursement in Comp

Within the last few weeks, several states have introduced or enacted bills to create medical cannabis programs and/or impact marijuana reimbursement in workers’ comp claims.

Mississippi Senate Bill 2095 was signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves to create a medical cannabis program. This bill is over 400 pages long with a multitude of clauses and details, but among them is language that exempts payers from paying for or reimbursing anyone for the cost of medical cannabis.

As for qualifying conditions, the list is long, but relevant to workers comp are the following conditions: PTSD, pain refractory to appropriate opioid management, diabetic/neuropathic pain, spinal cord disease or severe injury, or any debilitating disease/medical condition – or its treatment – which causes chronic pain, severe or intractable nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasm. Furthermore, the Mississippi Department of Health can add other conditions to this list.

Nebraska Legislative Bill 1275 was introduced shortly after the Mississippi bill was introduced, which would also introduce a state medical cannabis program and exempt payers from paying for or reimbursing anyone for the cost of medical cannabis. This bill currently awaits an initial vote, however.

Kansas Senate Bill 158 was also introduced, which would create another state cannabis program and exempt payers from paying for or reimbursing anyone for the cost of medical cannabis.

However, this bill would explicitly protect injured workers who are registered cannabis patients from a denial of benefits, assuming cannabis use complies with the law and the worker has no prior incidences of on-the-job impairment over the last two years. This bill has received amendments from both chambers and may soon advance.

South Carolina House Bill 3361 also proposes a medical marijuana program. At the moment, state Senators have made 28 different amendments to the original bill; while it is uncertain what the final bill will look like, this level of activity does indicate interest in passing a bill, but with varying opinions on rules and regulations. The current draft of the bill does not require insurance providers to reimburse the medical use of marijuana, and it allows employers to terminate employees under the influence of medical cannabis while in the workplace.

South Dakota Senate Bill 17 would update the state’s existing medical cannabis program to exempt workers’ comp payers from reimbursing cannabis costs associated with a work-related injury. This bill passed the Senate 34-0 and now sits with the House of Representatives. 

However, contrary to other states that are pushing for legislation against marijuana reimbursement, New Jersey Senate Bill 309 was introduced recently, which would require workers’ comp and automobile insurance carriers to provide coverage for costs associated with the use of medical cannabis.

This comes after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that carriers can be compelled to reimburse medical cannabis. However, under the state’s medical marijuana program, government medical assistance programs and private health insurers are exempt from medical marijuana costs. It is the presence of a loophole – as workers’ compensation is not defined as a type of health insurance in the Life and Health Insurance Code – that keeps workers’ comp on the hook.

When it comes to recreational legalization, many states began move forward as the New Year began. In Ohio, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a collection of signatures in a formal petition to the Ohio state legislature, with the aim of legalizing recreational marijuana. The Ohio legislature now has four months to adopt, reject, or pass an amended version of the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and implement a 10% sales tax.

If the Ohio legislature does not pass the measure, the CTRMLA can collect additional signatures to place the issue on the November ballot. Both Democrats and Republicans have previously introduced different recreational marijuana bills in the Ohio legislature, indicating overall interest in recreational legalization, but with differing opinions on logistics.

Delaware House Bill 305 passed the House Health and Human Development Committee on a 10-4 vote, bringing this recreational legalization bill another step forward. The Pennsylvania legislature’s Senate Law & Justice Committee will review a recreational marijuana bill, marking the first time in-state that a legislative committee has seriously considered such a bill.

Maryland House Bill 837 was recently introduced, which would allow adults aged 21 and older to possess 1.5 ounces of marijuana and decriminalize possession of greater amounts, up to 2.5 ounces. This bill is still in early stages, as is Tennessee House Bill 1968, which also proposes recreational legalization. Meanwhile, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recently urged lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana, proposing a plan that he hopes a divided state legislature can act upon.

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