As states continue to legalize medical marijuana, courts handling workers’ compensation cases have to consider whether it can be covered as medical treatment. As Georgia expanded its medical marijuana program last year, this issue could soon arise in Georgia workers’ compensation cases.
In a recent case, the claimant sustained a back injury while he was working at a paper mill in the 1980s. His employer agreed to place the claimant on total disability. He continued to suffer from chronic pain, and in January 2012 the claimant was issued a certification to use medical marijuana for his back pain. He subsequently filed a petition seeking payment from his employer for the cost of the medical marijuana. The employer argued that an order requiring it to pay for the medical marijuana was barred by the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Maine’s Supreme Court considered the issue for the first time in the state. The majority decided that there was a conflict between federal and state law, and that in the circumstances presented in that case, the federal Controlled Substances Act preempted the state law. Maine’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act allows qualifying patient to possess a certain amount of marijuana for personal use.
In the Controlled Substances Act, Congress expressly stated in the Act that it should not be construed to preempt state law on the same subject matter “unless there is a positive conflict between that provision of this title and that State law so that he two cannot consistently stand together.” The Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means that Congress determined it is not currently accepted as a medical treatment and that it poses too high a safety risk even under medical supervision.
The court determined that if the employer were to comply with the order to pay for the medical marijuana, it would be criminally aiding and abetting under the federal statute. The court found that the employer could not comply with both laws, and that by complying with the order, the employer would be required to engage in conduct that violated the Controlled Substances Act. Therefore, the federal law prevailed and the employer could not be required to pay for the claimant’s medical marijuana.
The Doctrine of Preemption
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states in part that the Constitution “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” That means that generally, if there is a state law that conflicts with federal law, the federal law prevails over, or preempts, the state law. However, it is not always clear whether a federal law does in fact conflict with state law, and if it does, whether it was the intent of the federal law to preempt state law.
Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you have a Georgia workers’ compensation claim, or are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, and want to petition for medical marijuana treatment, contact a workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. At the Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., we have decades of experience in Georgia workers’ compensation claims. We offer quality legal representation and responsive client service. To set up a free consultation about your claim, contact us today at 404-303-7770 or through our online form.