Workers’ Compensation and Medical Marijuana

by Karl Voigt

This April, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted Act 16 of 2016 (the Medical Marijuana Program),which will enable patients with serious medical conditions to purchase marijuana to treat their symptoms. This is viewed as a conservative approach to the legalization of marijuana in certain circumstances, not a wholesale and liberal distribution of medical marijuana cards. The goal of the legislature was to assist patients suffering from very serious medical conditions in alleviating pain and improving the quality of their life.

This is still a fledgling Act and the Commonwealth is reporting that the process will not be 100% ready until as late as April of 2018. The legislature is still working on implementing regulations and procedures for patients, doctors, growers and dispensaries. Once in effect, patients will be able to purchase medical marijuana only in some forms, not including dried leaves. It will be legally available as a pill, oil, topical, vapor, tincture, or liquid.

Marijuana will be available to treat only serious medical conditions, as defined in the Medical Marijuana Act:

  • Cancer
  • HIV
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • Epilepsy
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Neuropathies
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Intractable seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention or opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
  • Autism
  • Terminally ill, where a medical prognosis of life expectancy of approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course
  • Ulcerative colitis

Most of our injured clients who qualify are going to have 1) damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; or 2) severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin.

Because the Act conflicts with federal legislation that makes marijuana illegal, doctors can’t actually prescribe marijuana. Further, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never categorized medical marijuana as medical treatment. As a result, physicians in Pennsylvania can only recommend medical marijuana; it is merely a recommendation. Because the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act requires that workers’ compensation insurance carriers pay for work-related medical treatment, very likely carriers will not be responsible for the cost of medical marijuana.

Because doctors will be able to apply for certification to recommend marijuana in October, any of our clients who are interested in pursuing medical marijuana will have to ask their treating physicians if they intend to go through the process. If so, that doctor will guide them through the process. Otherwise, they will have to find a doctor who has chosen to obtain certification. If this is the case, our clients are urged to secure their medical records from their treating physicians for subsequent review by a certified doctor.

For more reading, check out the Department of Health’s website. The full text of the Act can be found here.

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