What Happens to Workers’ Comp With New Legal Marijuana?

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Legal marijuana has been highly controversial in the U.S. despite it becoming legalized in more and more states. Now that Ohio’s medical marijuana statute is in effect, employers and employees are faced with the challenge of how it might affect the workplace. 

One of the main considerations is what happens to workers’ compensation benefits with the introduction of legal marijuana. If what workers’ compensation in Ohio covers is unclear, we have provided a comprehensive overview to answer the common questions related to legal marijuana, the workplace, and injuries on the job. 

Let’s Begin.

Who is Prescribed Medical Marijuana in Ohio?

According to the Ohio Medical Board, approval for the use of medical marijuana in Ohio applies to a list of 21 conditions. Marijuana can alleviate the symptoms of these medical conditions and ailments. Those conditions include:  

  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Epilepsy (seizures)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • CTE
  • Chronic Pain
  • IBD
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Glaucoma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cancer
  • PTSD
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV / AIDS

Most medical conditions treated with marijuana in Ohio would be related to work injuries. Often, work injuries result in chronic pain, something legal marijuana is commonly prescribed for. 

How Would Employees Get a Prescription for Medical Marijuana in Ohio, and Who Pays for It? 

If you have experienced a work-related injury and are seeking or have received a prescription for legal marijuana in Ohio, there is quite a bit of information you will need to know. Medical marijuana in Ohio must be obtained through Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program (OMMCP) as follows: 

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Visit a Certified Physician

As a patient receiving legal marijuana in Ohio, you must first establish and maintain a physician-patient relationship with a certified physician. You must also have one of the qualifying medical conditions listed above. 

To maintain your relationship, you have to visit your doctor at least once a year. Your doctor will submit their recommendation for your use of legal marijuana in Ohio with the Patient Registry. To do so, you must provide:

  • Your valid Ohio driver’s license
  • A valid Ohio identification card that’s issued by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), or 
  • A valid United States passport 

Your caregiver can possess and administer medical marijuana in Ohio but must provide similar identification to establish their profile in the Patient Registry. You can be given up to a 90-day supply of medical marijuana in Ohio and three refills for a total supply of up to 360 days.

Get Registered

Following your registry, you will receive an email from the Patient Registry to log in to your profile. Once you complete your application, you will be asked to pay an annual registration fee of $50 as a patient or $25 for caregivers. Fee reductions are available for those with indigent or veteran status.

Dispensary Pickup

Once you receive your Patient & Caregiver Registry card, you can only purchase your medical marijuana in Ohio at a dispensary licensed by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy. At the time of pickup, the staff will provide instructions on the type and dose of product recommended by your physician. Your card must be active to purchase medical marijuana in Ohio.

Coverage by Workers’ Compensation

The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in Ohio does not view legal marijuana in Ohio as reimbursable for the following reasons: 

  • Although medical marijuana in Ohio is legal, it is still an illegal controlled substance under federal law.
  • Workers’ compensation in Ohio only reimburses registered “pharmacists,” not medical marijuana dispensaries. 
  • Workers’ compensation in Ohio only reimburses approved drugs on its formulary of approved medications of which marijuana is not listed (nor does it plan to add it).

Although workers’ comp does not cover the costs of medical marijuana in Ohio, it does cover the fees associated with a doctor’s visit to acquire a prescription. 

The main concern for employers is the risk associated with the use of legal marijuana in Ohio on the job. Employers can demand a “drug-free” workplace. The new laws do not provide that employers must allow medical marijuana use on the job. This is regardless of why you have been instructed to use medical marijuana in Ohio, including the treatment of pain due to a work-related injury. 

With the new concerns, many Ohio companies have sought legal guidance to understand their rights. This includes tightening rules for drug testing and justification for firing employees using medical marijuana in Ohio while on the job. This means there will be more stringent policies put in place regarding drug and medical marijuana use. 

Employers still have the right to refuse to hire, suspend, terminate, or take adverse employee action when medical marijuana use violates their work policies. Some companies are concerned with how they can help employees balance their need for the prescribed medication without interfering with their work or putting themselves or others at risk. 

Employers are also concerned that the first states to legalize medical marijuana have seen increases in failed drug screening. They fear that they will see the same pattern with medical marijuana in Ohio. In fact, according to a study by Quest Diagnostics, marijuana positivity has increased by 75% in the U.S. from 2013.

Further challenges exist as testing does not prove whether a person is “high” or not, but instead only shows that cannabis is in the system. This makes it difficult to justify discipline or firing in the case of use. Because employers cannot control use outside of work, the science and technology available for testing is failing. You should keep in mind that cannabis can show up in your system even after the effects have long worn off. 

Protection for Employees and Employers

Employers have to develop policies that will protect both themselves and their employees when it comes to medical marijuana in Ohio. They can establish a drug-free workplace policy or make amendments to existing policies to address medical marijuana use. 

There are sections of the legal marijuana laws that do address violations for employers that do have a drug-free, zero-tolerance, or other formal drug-related workplace policy. It is important for you to understand these policies and how they apply to your medical marijuana use. In some cases, this will mean that you will have to choose whether your job or medical marijuana use is more important. 

You can consult with a lawyer to review your rights and ensure you are following the new legal marijuana laws. You can also discuss any action you can take to dispute the decisions made by workers’ comp and legal medical marijuana use and coverage.

Quick Answers

Is Medical Marijuana Covered by Workers’ Compensation

Although medical marijuana in Ohio is legal, it is still an illegal controlled substance under federal law.
Workers’ compensation in Ohio only reimburses registered “pharmacists,” not medical marijuana dispensaries. 
Workers’ compensation in Ohio only reimburses approved drugs on its formulary of approved medications of which marijuana is not listed (nor does it plan to add it).

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