Medical Marijuana and Workers' Compensation

The Louisiana Legislature has now defined which medical conditions will be eligible for treatment with “Medical Marijuana” (tetra-hydro-cannabinoids). Medical Marijuana (hereinafter M-THC) is a term used to describe the extracts of the marijuana plant that are distilled and refined in such a way as to provide pain relief, without the intoxicating effects of marijuana obtained illicitly. M-THC has low side effects and is substitute for narcotics. Louisiana has legalized M-THC, following a growing national trend.

With the production and prescription of M-THC just around the corner, many people suffering from debilitating medical conditions eagerly await its availability. The legislature identifies the following conditions that will be eligible for M-THC treatment: cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, HIV, AIDS, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spacticity, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Injured workers often suffer with several of these medical conditions, as a result of work accidents, most notably: seizure disorders, muscle spasms, post-traumatic stress disorder and spacticity.

Good news for injured workers, right? A low side effect pain medication would seem to be a perfect fit for someone who was trying to work and avoid the narcotics that are usually prescribed for these conditions. Wrong! The Louisiana legislature has specifically excluded injured workers form the class of patient that can receive M-THC. A provision was inserted into the law that exempts workers’ compensation insurers from being required to pay for M-THC even if prescribed by the injured worker’s treating doctor. The result is that injured workers are being singled out as unworthy recipients of a cutting-edge medical treatment that any other class of patient would have access.

This is patently unfair and certainly will be the subject of legal challenges as to the laws constitutionality. The law on its face is violative of the Equal Protection clause. I am sure that the big business lobby will make arguments why injured workers should not be given access to M-THC, but their arguments will likely be rooted in bias of perception of the marijuana plant’s illicit uses, and not grounded in the reality of M-THC’s therapeutic value.

Categories: