Cannabis Law Develops in NJ After Workers Compensation Ruling

Cannabis law continues to develop in New Jersey.  On June 28, 2018, a New Jersey workers’ compensation judge ordered Freehold Township to pay for an injured worker’s medical cannabis.  This is the second time a New Jersey Workers Compensation judge has come to this conclusion, which is a significant step in the development of New Jersey cannabis law.

Freehold Township SealThe attorney arguing for the insurance company who provided workers compensation insurance for Freehold Township argued that the workers compensation court could not order the insurance company to pay for the medical cannabis because cannabis is illegal under federal law.  This argument is called a preemption argument, which means that the Supremacy Clause in the United States Constitution – which makes federal law “supreme” over state law – should not allow the workers compensation judge to rule in the injured worker’s favor.  The insurance company cited to a June 14, 2018 ruling from the Maine Supreme Court which disallowed medical cannabis in the workers compensation context because of federal law.

The workers compensation judge in New Jersey chose not to follow the Maine ruling, explaining that the New Jersey Compassionate Use Act (the medical cannabis statute) is not inconsistent with New Jersey and federal drug laws which are designed to combat the illegal drug trade.  The judge took the position that all the insurance company would do was sign a check to the injured worker’s attorney trust account to pay for the medical cannabis, which would not constitute possession or distribution of illegal cannabis.

The court also recognized that the medical cannabis was prescribed to the injured worker in part to reduce the threat of opioid addiction.  The workers compensation judge went as far as saying that the “real crime” is that opioids “have been force fed to injured people creating addicts” and that opioids “are killing people.”

It is presently unclear whether this ruling will be appealed.  This Blog will continue to follow any cannabis developments in the workers compensation context.