The New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that a construction company must cover all monthly medical cannabis costs for a former employee, setting a precedent that will protect employees’ access to medical pot.
This ruling serves as the final word in a lengthy legal battle between M&K Construction and one of its former employees, Vincent Hager. In 2001, Hager was injured during a regular work shift when a cement truck poured wet concrete on him. This accident left Hager with a herniated disc, spinal nerve damage, and chronic back and leg pain.
Hager had to undergo several surgeries for his injury, and ended up becoming dependent on opioid medications that were prescribed to him for the pain. But when New Jersey expanded its medical cannabis program in 2017, Hager was able to replace these addictive drugs with medical pot. Unfortunately, the Garden State has some of the highest medical marijuana prices in the nation, and Hager was stuck paying over $600 a month for his new medicine.
Since federal law continues to prohibit cannabis, neither private health insurers nor government health aid programs will cover the cost of medical pot. So, Hager filed a claim with the state demanding that his former employee reimburse him for these costs. Eventually, a workers' compensation judge ruled that M&K did indeed have to pay for the medicine, but the company appealed.
In their case, M&K argued that covering the cost of medical marijuana could constitute aiding and abetting an illegal drug purchase, which could land them in hot water with the feds. Last January, an appeals court found that the company could not be found guilty of this federal crime because it was not directly buying the weed and giving it to Hager. On these grounds, the appeals court agreed that M&K must cover Hager's costs.
Not content to live with either court's ruling, M&K appealed the case yet again. This Tuesday, the state Supreme Court delivered the final word on the matter, unanimously voting to uphold the lower courts' decisions. With every appeal exhausted, the company will now be mandated to cover their former employee's medical marijuana costs.
“We agree with the compensation court and Appellate Division that exempting workers’ compensation insurance carriers from responsibility for workers’ medical marijuana costs would be antithetical to the legislature’s express findings in the Compassionate Use Act and the traditional broad, liberal application of New Jersey’s workers’ compensation scheme,” the court wrote in its opinion, NORML reports.
This ruling sets a precedent that will likely protect other employees' access to medical marijuana throughout the state. And now that New Jersey has voted to completely end cannabis prohibition, injured employees will have even greater access to their medicine.