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Appeals Court – Medical Marijuana Is Covered By Workers’ Compensation


Gavel marijuana miami prosecutorI read a very interesting article. George Vialpando injured his back while working for Ben’s Automotive Services in Santa Fe in 2000. While trying to find relief from his back pain, Mr. Vialpando looked into becoming a medical marijuana patient. He was approved. Mr. Vialpando then applied to have his medical marijuana covered by the workers’ compensation plan, which was approved by a judge. The judge found the request to be ‘reasonable and necessary.’ The employer then appealed the decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals.


Court of appeals’ ruling

Ben’s Automotive raised two arguments for why it shouldn’t be required to reimburse Vialpando: First, the Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t authorize reimbursement for the cost of medical marijuana, and second, the workers’ compensation judge’s order was illegal under federal law.

Ben’s Automotive argued that it was being forced to violate federal law because marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, so it’s illegal under federal law to use or possess it. There’s no exception under federal law for the medical use of marijuana. Both arguments were rejected by the court of appeals.

Workers’ Compensation Act authorizes reimbursement

The court disposed of the first argument in short order. It found that the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t prohibit a healthcare provider from certifying that an injured worker should receive medical marijuana in the course of the treatment for his workplace injury. As long as the treatment is “reasonable and necessary” and approved by a workers’ compensation judge, the employer is responsible for paying for it under the Act.

Federal law doesn’t bar reimbursement for medical pot under workers’ comp

The appeals court ruling on the second argument is more controversial and has caught the attention of the national media. Ben’s Automotive argued that requiring it to reimburse Vialpando for the cost of his medical marijuana meant it was essentially being required to violate federal drug laws. Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal law generally trumps state law when a federal law and a state law directly conflict. The court of appeals rejected that argument also.

The appeals court found no direct conflict between federal law and the Compassionate Use Act. It further noted that Ben’s Automotive failed to cite to any specific federal law it was being forced to violate. Finally, the court rejected the public policy arguments, noting that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has recently affirmed that even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the department is prioritizing its enforcement efforts in eight specific areas

This case will no doubt be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. How they will rule is anyone’s guess at this point. However, despite what the New Mexico Supreme Court says, their ruling will also likely be appealed, this time to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court may or may not decide to take the case. If they do, it will be very interesting to see how they rule, and what the legal reasoning is behind their ruling. This case is worth following for sure.


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Johnny Green


  1. Savage Grace on

    Medical Marijuana is allowed, under federal law, in Washington DC -My question why aren’t all 50 States covered under that same law?

  2. Right. After a case goes through the state Supreme Court, it can only be appealed to the US Supreme Court, and the big US Supreme Court doesn’t hear that many cases simply because there’s not enough time to hear many. Of the cases that they do hear, they are verrrry conservative in overturning, and don’t overturn many. This would be one that they might hear, because of the gravity of the future implications, but are statistically unlikely to overturn the previous ruling.
    Source : my Bachelors in Forensic Psychology

  3. So if the US Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, the previous court’s ruling stands, right?

  4. When Florida passes their medical marijuana amendment this November, over half the electoral college will fall under state medical marijuana laws. This will more than likely have an affect on federal judges in future rulings on medical marijuana.

  5. This is awesome! This is very important because it is a big step towards eventually having medical mj covered by health insurance, which none do atm. It may be a long way off, but I think they (insurance co’s and workers comp co’s) will find that med mj is cheaper, safer, and less risky than most of the pharma junk that they already hate to cover.

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