Florida Court Rules That Medical Marijuana Treatment Is Not Covered Under Workers’ Compensation
When injured workers file workers’ compensation claims, they are entitled to receive medical treatment for their injuries. With the rise of alternative medicine, however, it is not always clear whether certain medical treatments are covered under workers’ compensation. One such type of medical treatment involves the use of medical marijuana. In a recent Florida case, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that workers’ compensation does not cover medical treatments involving the use of medical marijuana.
Jones v. Grace Healthcare (2021)
In Jones v. Grace Healthcare, the Claimant challenged the denial of his petition for workers’ compensation benefits. Specifically, the judge of compensation claims (JCC) denied his claim for the authorization of a referral to a physician able to evaluate him and write him a certification to use medical marijuana in his treatment plan.
After injuring his back at work in 2001, the Claimant had been taking oral medications for 16 years to alleviate his pain. In 2017, the Claimant suggested to his physician that medical marijuana be added to his treatment plan. His physician rejected this suggestion, stating that he was not authorized to prescribe medical marijuana, and instead referred him to another physician to examine the Claimant and provide him access to the marijuana. When the Claimant sought authorization from his employer, Grace Healthcare, to do so, the employer denied his request.
In the final order, the JCC ultimately denied the Claimant’s petition and concluded the following:
- Medical marijuana is considered a medically necessary benefit to help the Claimant reduce or eliminate, and avoid the long-term side effects of, continued and indefinite use of oral pain medication.
- Employers cannot be required to pay for medical marijuana for an injured worker.
- Employers cannot be required to reimburse employees for the initial or any later evaluations by a qualified physician to obtain the certification necessary to obtain medical marijuana.
- Requiring Grace Healthcare to pay for or facilitate the Claimant’s use of marijuana would expose it to criminal liability under federal law.
Court of Appeal Analysis
The First District Court of Appeal asserted that even though Florida permits the purchase, possession, and use of marijuana for medical purposes, federal law prevails in situations involving conflicting state law, due to the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. Specifically, the Court indicated that the federal Controlled Substances Act is the controlling law in this case.
Because federal rules are controlling in this case, the court noted that federal law characterizes marijuana as having no accepted medical use and makes all possession and use of it illegal throughout the United States. As such, the Court reasoned, a referral to a physician authorized to prescribe medical marijuana (even just for an evaluation of whether the employee is a good candidate for marijuana treatment) could not in any circumstance be considered medically necessary. The Court further rationalized that because medical marijuana is not reimbursable under Florida law (Florida Statute § 381.986(f)), it cannot be considered medically necessary.
The Court ultimately ruled that the Claimant cannot require Grace Healthcare to pay for an evaluation by a health care provider whose sole purpose is the facilitation of marijuana treatment because it is not reimbursable and has no accepted, safe, medical use under the law and as such, cannot be considered medically necessary.
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If you recently filed a workers’ compensation claim that was subsequently denied and you would like to file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer instead, The Musleh Law Firm is prepared to assist you through the process. Our experienced Ocala workers’ compensation attorneys will fight to ensure that you receive compensation for your injuries.