January 4, 2018

State and Federal Governments Clash Over Marijuana

Marijuana entered the news again when the Department of Justice issued a new memo that empowers federal prosecutors to enforce, at their own discretion, federal laws against marijuana in states where decriminalization has been enacted.

This action shifts federal marijuana policies away from Obama-era practices, which deferred federal marijuana law enforcement to the regulatory schemes of states, enabling several states in the last few years to legalize medical marijuana programs and move forward without fear of federal reprisal. Several states have voiced their opposition to the memo, including CaliforniaNevadaLouisianaPennsylvaniaColorado, and many others, arguing that it tramples state rights.

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, and in several of those states chronic pain is a qualifying condition for medical marijuana use. In fact, Arizona currently has nearly 130,000 cardholders registered for medical marijuana use specifically for chronic pain, while Michigan has over 275,000.

This has caused many to discuss the viability of marijuana in workers’ comp as the opioid epidemic causes industry stakeholders to look towards alternatives for pain relief. And with more and more studies linking medical marijuana programs to decreases in opioid use, marijuana has become a popular topic in comp.

In fact, over the last few years, insurance companies had issued reimbursements to injured worker claimants in MinnesotaMaine, and Connecticut, while judges in New Mexico and New Jersey ruled in favor of reimbursing medical marijuana in workers’ comp.

However, this recent development could put the brakes on that momentum, and tensions are likely to rise between states and the federal government over this issue, as public support for medical marijuana is at an all-time high. Roughly 61% of the population supports the legalization of marijuana, and that number climbs up to 71% when focused on the 18-35 demographic, indicating that this issue will not exit quietly in the near future.

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