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Medical marijuana is a hot topic for workers' compensation

Medical marijuana is a topic that seems to be creeping up in the news a lot lately. Recently, there was a Workers' Compensation Conference in Pennsylvania. During this, one hot topic was workers who use medical marijuana. What became evident at the conference is that this is a new area of the law which probably won't have clear answers for a while.

For employers, marijuana poses a conundrum. The drug is still illegal on a federal level, but 29 states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow people to use it for medicinal purposes. Programs like the one in Pennsylvania require patients to have a doctor's prescription for cannabis and to have appropriate documentation. But, what does this mean for employees?

Many employers have policies in place that forbid any drug usage. They perform drug tests on employees and reserve the right to terminate them if the results are positive. How would an employer handle medical marijuana? This is yet to be determined by the Pennsylvania courts.

One issue that comes up in these cases is impairment. What would happen if a worker was injured in an accident and was found to have marijuana in his or her system?  Can the employer prove that the drug use caused the work injury?  Would the employer have a valid defense to workers' compensation liability?

Another issue is whether workers' compensation can be forced to pay for medical cannabis or reimburse a claimant who pays for it out of his or her pocket.

The uncertainty for workers can also pose a problem. Some workers might be wary to make claims for workers' compensation if they know they will test positive. The truth here is that until the dust settles, cases will be taken on an individual basis. The courts will likely struggle with these issues for years to come until precedents are set, or until the Federal law changes to legalize marijuana.

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