You are here
Home > News > U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Cases Seeking Workers’ Comp for Medical Cannabis

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Cases Seeking Workers’ Comp for Medical Cannabis

The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday denied petitions to hear two cases challenging Minnesota’s refusal to allow coverage for medical cannabis through the state’s workers’ compensation program. In both cases, workers sought a review of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision finding that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) supersedes state law, resulting in a denial of coverage for medicinal cannabis for the employees’ work-related injuries.

Before making its decision, the Supreme Court asked the U.S. Department of Justice for a briefing. The Justice Department responded to the Minnesota court by agreeing that the CSA preempts state law. The Justice Department’s attorneys argued, however that states had not addressed federal preeminence adequately and asked the Supreme Court for a reserve on developing law.

The case was not the first time a state court had ruled on workers’ compensation coverage for medical pot. The New Mexico Court of Appeals in 2014 approved reimbursement of workers’ compensation claims for medical cannabis. However, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey have made inconsistent decisions in similar cases. Courts in New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey found that state law was not in conflict with the CSA and authorized workers’ compensation claims for medical cannabis. However, in Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Minnesota judges ruled that federal law prevails.

Does the SCOTUS Decision Make You Feel Bad?

Attorney Anne Davis, the co-founder of Bennabis Health, a company specializing in affordable medical cannabis access for patients, says that the Supreme Court’s decision to decline to hear the cases is not necessarily a negative outcome for patients.

“While I would’ve loved a decision by the federal government mandating that cannabis is in fact a covered benefit, [the court] deferring to the states could be good in the grand scheme of the industry,” Davis writes in an email to Chronic News. “The more that the Supreme Court defers to states’ rights, I think the more it helps our growing industry. If the federal government takes the hands-off approach and leaves it to states’ rights, that allows the cannabis industry to grow and expand.”

Davis thinks that states should lead the reform of pot. Federal legislation that allows marijuana trade between states would be the best for the industry.

“The problem we’re left to deal with is interstate commerce,” said Davis. “If we can somehow navigate that, then I think state rights having control over the cannabis industry is a much better option than the federal government rescheduling and allowing big Pharma to take control.”

Advocates for reforming cannabis policy had hoped that the Supreme Court would address the Minnesota cases after Justice Clarence Thomas’ comments last year, in which he indicated that he thinks the federal ban on marijuana is no longer rational because so many states have passed legislation contradicting federal law.

“A prohibition on intrastate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government’s piecemeal approach,” he wrote.

Unanswered Question

Thomas spoke out about a case that the Supreme Court refused to hear, in which a Colorado marijuana dispensary challenged federal policy denials standard business deductions for cannabis companies. Thomas suggested that a 2005 high-court ruling upholding cannabis possession prohibition might be outdated.

“Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning,” he continued. “The federal government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana.”

This week’s action by the U.S. Supreme Court leaves many unanswered questions about the viability of workers’ compensation coverage for medical cannabis. An analysis of the refusal to grant petitions The National Law Review wrote that the “Supreme Court’s decision to remain on the sidelines of the debate over marijuana legalization is disappointing to many who were hoping to see the high court help to break the logjam in Congress. The decision also leaves in place the clear conflict over workers’ compensation reimbursement of medical cannabis in state court decisions and facilitates the potential for further conflict as this issue continues to percolate throughout the country.”