Colorado Workers’ Compensation and Medical Marijuana

 Colorado voters in 2000 passed an amendment to the state’s constitution allowing for the lawful use of medical marijuana under certain conditions. In addition to Colorado, many other states have passed such measures.

These laws stand in direct contrast to federal marijuana laws. Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, it is illegal for a doctor to prescribe marijuana to a patient…they can recommend it but cannot prescribe it.

Conflicts between state and federal laws raises a boat load of questions – one of those is how does medical marijuana fit into the workers’ compensation framework.

Workers are unsure of their rights and employers are uncertain as to their obligations under these new laws. Some issues are pretty clear-cut while others are quite vague, leading to a multitude of questions from workers, employers and insurance carriers.

One thing is quite certain though – Amendment 20 does not allow a person to smoke marijuana on the job. Employers are not required to allow the use of marijuana on the job either. Workers’ comp laws in Colorado in fact strip 50% of an injured worker’s wage loss benefits if it’s determined they were under the influence of medical marijuana while at work.

Beyond that though, there are many ambiguities as to what accommodations employers need to make.

One ambiguity in the law the courts have not addressed is whether an employee with a medical marijuana card can be terminated for having any trace of pot in their system. Since federal law considers marijuana possession a crime, courts in other states allowing medical pot have found employers can in fact restrict its use OUTSIDE of work as well.

This fact leaves terminated employees with hardly any recourse.

Another issue surrounding medical pot and workers’ comp in Colorado is insurance…the law does not require insurers to cover the expense of medical marijuana. Additional issues arise when an employer or insurer is based in another state that does not allow medical marijuana.

If they chose to pay a claim involving pot, would they be in violation of their state laws as well as federal law?

All of these answers are pretty vague at this point in time. Some have suggested medical marijuana be treated just like regular prescription drugs, which would make for an orderly transition. Federal law however casts doubt over whether that is a viable option or not.

For the time being, individual employers are setting their own policies. As time goes on, many of these issues will be debated in the courts and only time will tell how medical marijuana integrates into the state’s workers’ comp system.

Until that time comes, much uncertainty will unfortunately be the norm for both employers and workers injured on-the-job or who have chronic medical conditions.

If you’re employer is giving you difficulty in handling your workers’ compensation case because of this ambiguity, contact Denver workers’ compensation attorneys at the Babcock Law Firm today for a free consultaion.