How will Cannabis/Marijuana impact Workers Compensation?

There has been a lot of change surrounding marijuana during the past few years, as many states have legalized medical marijuana while some have also legalized recreational use. The vast majority of employers have a strict policy, instituting a drug-free and alcohol-free workplace with almost no exceptions. Some employees also have to regularly submit to drug and alcohol tests. Now that many states have legalized recreational and medical marijuana, how will this impact workers’ compensation benefits? If someone suffers an injury in the workplace and tests positive for marijuana, can they be denied workers’ compensation benefits? 

Marijuana Remains Illegal at the Federal Level

First, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. As a result, many of the individuals who use medical marijuana are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What this means is that this is something that is decided at a state level. Employers are going to find inconsistencies between federal and state policies regarding recreational and medical marijuana. This can make it challenging to navigate workers’ compensation.

Presumed Intoxicated

There are some careers where people are drug tested randomly and regularly; however, a lot of individuals are going to be asked to take a drug test if they are injured on the job. Then, the employer is going to compare the results of this drug test to any prescription medications the individual is taking. For example, if someone has a prescription for benzodiazepines due to anxiety or a seizure disorder, these benzodiazepines may show up on the drug screen. As long as someone has a prescription, this may or may not impact workers’ compensation benefits.

On the other hand, if someone tests positive for THC, the active component in marijuana, a challenge could be made to the workers compensation commission and/or carrier on the basis that the individual was under the influence at the time of injury and marijuana is still illegal under federal law. It creates a murky scenario for sure.

Taking a Closer Look at the Testing Method

Importantly, the results of a drug test are going to be impacted by the method used. In a lot of situations, a drug test is going to be conducted using a urinary screening. One big problem with the current statute is that urine does not show what is currently active in someone’s bloodstream. It only shows that someone used that substance at some point in the past. THC could stay in the urine for several days and does not necessarily mean that individual was intoxicated or under the influence at the time of the injury.

Looking to the Future

One way to navigate this issue is to get a blood test immediately after the injury. This is a more accurate reflection of what is currently in someone’s system; however, the laws simply have not caught up to society. Right now, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which can make workers’ compensation benefits a challenge depending on the specific claim situation.

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