June 29, 2015

Court: Employer can’t block workers’ comp for medical marijuana

New Mexico employers must compensate workers who are medical marijuana patients for the cost of the medical marijuana, according to a recent ruling from the state Court of Appeals.

An Initiative To Legalize Marijuana In California To Appear On Nov. BallotOn Friday, June 26, the court concluded that American General Media had improperly blocked workers’ compensation for medical marijuana for one of its employees who suffered from chronic pain. The court also ruled that federal law classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal substance doesn’t supersede New Mexico’s law allowing marijuana use for medical purposes.

The case concerned Sandra Lewis, who has suffered from chronic pain after sustaining a work-related injury in 1998. She has been enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program since 2010.

The court opinion says that American General Media’s refusal to allow workman’s compensation for her medical marijuana went against the recommendations of two doctors and one physician assistant who signed a certificate for Lewis’ enrollment into the program.

Doctors notes from Lewis’ providers gave “substantial evidence” for American General Media to grant her workers’ compensation, according to the ruling.

American General Media also argued that because one of the doctors who signed wasn’t an authorized health care provider recognized under the state Workers’ Compensation Act. The court ruling says this argument “fatally interconnects” the workers’ compensation law with the medical marijuana law.

From the ruling:

“Even though the administrative regulations promulgated by the Department of Health pursuant to the Compassionate Use Act may require more than one certification for the condition of severe chronic pain, nothing in the Workers’ Compensation Act requires evidence from more than one health care provider in order to establish the reasonableness and necessity of medical care.”

Because Lewis was already enrolled in the Medical Cannabis Program, the rules states that “it was not the role of the [workers’ compensation judge] to second-guess that determination.”

As for the discrepancy between the state allowing a medical marijuana program and the federal government barring all use of marijuana, the court ruling acknowledges both laws “contradict each other.” But the court goes on to cite a similar ruling from last year where an employer “had not demonstrated that the order would have required it to violate a federal statute and that federal public policy was ambiguous in contrast with New Mexico’s clear public policy expressed in the Compassionate Use Act.”

In that case, Vialpando v. Ben’s Automotive Services, the same court gave a similar ruling that said an employer couldn’t block workers’ compensation payments to a medical marijuana patient.

Read the full text of the most recent ruling below:

MMJ Appeals Ruling by New Mexico Political Report


  • Joey Peters

    Joey Peters has been a journalist for nearly a decade. Most recently, his reporting in New Mexico on closed government policies earned several accolades. Peters has also worked as a reporter in Washington DC and the Twin Cities. Contact him by phone at (505) 226-3197.