Many parties await a Supreme Court decision regarding whether the federal crime of possessing marijuana invalidates state orders that require workers’ compensation insurers to cover the cost of medical marijuana prescriptions for employees injured on the job. Thus far, two State Supreme Courts have ruled that reimbursement for medical marijuana is permissible, while three have ruled that it is not.
The Supreme Court became involved in this matter after two cases from Minnesota – Bierbach v. Diggers Polaris and State Auto/United Fire and Casualty and Musta v. Mendota Heights Dental Center and Hartford Insurance Group – brought conflicting federal and state laws surrounding marijuana possession front and center. In both cases, employees who had been injured on the job challenged their insurers’ “refusing to reimburse them for medical marijuana prescriptions.” Minnesota authorized the use of medical marijuana in 2014, and, under Minnesota’s workers’ compensation statute, employees injured at work can seek whatever legal treatment they please in efforts to relieve the pain caused by an on-the-job injury.
Minnesota’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Court (MWCAC) ruled in Bierbach’s favor, and his employer was required to reimburse him for his medical marijuana expenses. However, Bierbach’s employer and insurer appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court (MSC), which ruled the opposite. The MSC ruled that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which classifies distribution or possession of marijuana as a crime, preempts the MWCAC ruling. Minnesota’s high court also ruled against both Bierbach and Musta, arguing that “reimbursement could expose the employer and insurer to criminal liability.”
After the MSC ruling, Bierbach petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. In his petition, Bierbach argued that reimbursement for medical marijuana does not require an employer to possess or distribute marijuana and that Congress has passed appropriation bills that have included “riders that bar Department of Justice from enforcing federal marijuana laws in connection with medical marijuana programs that comply with state law.”
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 37 states, six of which require reimbursement for medical marijuana under workers’ compensation and six of which prohibit said reimbursement. The remaining states either do not require it or have not ruled on the issue. The Supreme Court’s guidance on this issue will likely have a strong effect on how state-level courts rule on this issue in the future.