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Georgia’s Medical Marijuana Law May Complicate Some Workers’ Compensation Claims

On Behalf of | Jun 13, 2017 | Georgia Workers' Compensation |

Back in 2015, the Governor signed into law Haleigh’s Hope Act, which established the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis to provide recommendations concerning medical marijuana regulations. The Act allowed individuals with certain illnesses to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil, if approved by their physician. The qualifying illnesses were Crohn’s disease, seizure disorders, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, severe or end-stage ALS, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and sickle-cell disease.

In May of this year, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law Senate Bill 16, a measure that expands Georgia’s medical marijuana program. According to a recent article, the law makes six more illnesses eligible for medical marijuana treatment:  AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, epidermolysis bullosa, Tourette’s syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, and autism.

While the law allows doctors to certify patients for the State’s Low THC Oil Registry and authorizes the Georgia Department of Public Health to issue a registry card to qualified individuals, the bill does not authorize doctors to “prescribe” marijuana. The State has explained that a doctor’s certification is merely a certification that there is an established doctor-patient relationship, that the doctor has examined the patient, and that the patient has one of the qualifying medical conditions.

The Impact of Medical Marijuana on Workers’ Compensation Claims

The legalization of medical marijuana raises a number of questions regarding the law’s impact on workers’ compensation laws. For example, if an employee is legally under the influence of medical marijuana, does that affect the employee’s workers’ compensation claim?

Under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, an injured employee cannot recover workers’ compensation benefits when the injury was a result of the influence of controlled substances, including marijuana. Under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-17, an employee is disqualified for workers’ compensation benefits if the injury was a result of “intoxication by alcohol or being under the influence of marijuana or a controlled substance, except as may have been lawfully prescribed by a physician for such employee and taken in accordance with such prescription.” It further states that if there is any amount of marijuana found in the employee’s blood within eight hours of the incident, there is a presumption that the injury was caused by the use of marijuana. The same presumption applies if the employee refuses to submit to a blood, urine, or breath test. Thus, although employees who are prescribed a controlled substance are not disqualified, medical cannabis oil is not legally “prescribed” under Georgia law. Therefore, at this early point, it appears that an employee using legal cannabis oil may not be protected under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Another issue is whether medical marijuana treatment is covered under workers’ compensation benefits. Although it is legally authorized for qualified individuals under the Act in Georgia, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. This makes access to medical marijuana complicated in a workers’ compensation system. Despite this, some states have made medical marijuana treatment available under their workers’ compensation laws.

Do You Have a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

If you believe you may have a workers’ compensation claim, and you were under the influence of marijuana at the time of the incident or are interested in accessing medical marijuana to treat your work-related injury, contact a skilled workers’ compensation attorney. At J. Franklin Burns, P.C., our attorneys have upwards of 50 combined years of trial experience. We offer quality legal representation and responsive client service. To set up a free consultation about your injury claim, contact us today at 404-920-4708 or by filling out our online form.