The Maine Supreme Court is currently deciding whether a paper mill worker who was left suicidal by narcotic painkillers should receive workers’ compensation benefits for medical marijuana. It is the first time that the court has considered this question. The plaintiff, Gaetan Bourgoin, won a ruling from the state’s workers’ compensation board two years ago saying that the paper mill’s insurer must reimburse him for medical marijuana. He contends that marijuana is both cheaper and safer than narcotics. However, Twin Rivers Paper Co. and its insurer appealed the ruling, arguing that paying for pot use, even for medical purposes, could expose the company to prosecution, since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
Now that medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, insurers across the country have been confronted with the problem of whether they should cover medical marijuana. Compounding this problem is the byzantine tangle of state laws on reimbursement. For example, five states – Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico – have found medical marijuana treatment is reimbursable under their workers’ compensation laws, according to the National Council for Compensation Insurance. Florida and North Dakota, meanwhile, passed laws this year excluding medical marijuana treatment from workers’ compensation reimbursement.
This issue is a bit more complex in Georgia. While patients who are suffering from certain conditions are legally authorized to possess low-THC cannabis oil in Georgia, the sale, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana are still illegal, meaning that doctors are not allowed to prescribe it. Although nothing in Georgia’s workers’ compensation law specifically bars legal marijuana treatment, the law does state that insurance companies only have to pay for medical treatment that is authorized by a medical provider. Thus, because doctors cannot prescribe marijuana, workers’ compensation insurance companies do not currently pay for it in Georgia.