Minnesota court: Workers' comp can't cover medical marijuana

Rosemary Johnson uses medical marijuana pills to deal with pain
Rosemary Johnson holds a bottle of medical marijuana pills, which she uses to deal with intractable pain.
Peter Cox | MPR News 2019

Workers' compensation for injured employees doesn't cover medical marijuana, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, because the drug remains illegal under federal law.

The state's highest court issued a pair of rulings that overturned earlier decisions by the state Workers Compensation Court of Appeals' that ordered employers to pay for medical marijuana to treat work-related injuries.

A majority of the justices ruled that federal law, which prohibits the prescribing and possession of marijuana regardless of state laws authorizing it, blocks employers from being required to pay for medical cannabis. The decision said the proper remedy would be for Congress to pass legislation to resolve the conflicts between state and federal laws.

But Associate Justice Margaret Chutich issued a pair of dissents. She wrote that the effect of the decisions is to prevent injured workers who suffer intractable pain from receiving the relief that medical cannabis can bring. And she said that frustrates the Legislature's goal with workers compensation of delivering medical benefits to injured workers at a reasonable cost to employers.

The cases involved a dental hygienist who suffered an on-the-job neck injury and an employee at an outdoor equipment dealer who suffered an ankle injury when an ATV rolled over it.

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