Medical Marijuana and Workers’ Compensation in Illinois: What You Need to Know
On August 28, 2018, the Alternative to Opioids Act became law in Illinois, thus making it possible for Illinois residents to legally get access to medical marijuana in place of opioid treatment.
Since then, applications for medical marijuana use in Illinois have climbed. Public interest in medical marijuana has also raised some questions. For example, under Illinois workers’ compensation law, is it permissible to use medical marijuana to treat an injury sustained at work? In this blog post, I address some crucial questions you may have.
What does Illinois law say about the use of medical marijuana?
The law differs from one state to the next. As of this writing, 33 states have legalized the use of cannabis as a form of medical treatment. Illinois is among them. In Illinois, applicants for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program must meet certain requirements. You can find all of the qualifying conditions at this link.
As of this writing, there is no blanket federal law allowing for the use of cannabis as a form of medical treatment. Congress has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug under 21 U.S.C. § 812(c), and federal law prohibits its manufacture, distribution, and possession. 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Schedule I controlled substances lack any accepted medical use. It’s important that if you need legal assistance in this matter, you choose an attorney who understands the law in your own state.
I’m filing for workers’ compensation for an injury I sustained at work. May I use medical marijuana for pain treatment?
While some states allow cannabis to treat broad conditions such as pain, Illinois requires patients to have their doctors certify they have one of more than 35 debilitating conditions.
Individuals diagnosed with one of the required debilitating medical conditions who seek the use of medical cannabis must obtain “written certification.” Written certification is defined as a document dated and signed by a physician stating that in the physician’s professional opinion the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or comforting benefits from the medical use of cannabis to treat or alleviate the patient’s debilitating medical condition or associated symptoms.
Patients must also apply for and obtain a registry identification card in order to be eligible for medical cannabis.
If you believe medical marijuana is appropriate for your situation, you will need to meet the qualifications set forth in Illinois, and your physician will need to authorize its use for treatment. Note that a physician’s authorization is going to be needed no matter what course of action you take to treat an injury under the workers’ compensation process.
Will my employer’s insurance company pay for the use of medical marijuana as a form of treatment?
Even though several states with medical cannabis statutes specifically contain language that employers do not have to pay for medical cannabis, the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act remains silent on the issue. While it is unclear whether workers’ compensation insurers in Illinois will be required to pay for medical cannabis, they will likely be forced to do so if all of the requirements of the Act are met. Employers can attempt to argue that authorizing medical cannabis is not reasonable and necessary.
An employer has two primary ways to challenge the reasonableness and necessity of medical cannabis use among injured workers:
- An employer can obtain a utilization review for the use of medical cannabis. A utilization review is an evaluation of the proposed or provided healthcare services to determine the appropriateness of both the level of healthcare services medically necessary and the quality of the healthcare services provided to the patient, including evaluation of their efficiency, efficacy, and appropriateness of treating. A utilization denying the reasonableness or necessity of medical cannabis as a treatment for the employee’s injuries will give the employer a basis to deny payment.
- An employer can obtain an independent medical examination (IME). If the employer does not believe the employee is suffering from a condition to warrant the use of medical cannabis, it can obtain an IME to determine whether the employee has a debilitating medical condition.
Nationwide, for example, does not reimburse medical marijuana treatment except in jurisdictions that mandate it by law. And so far, only five states — Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New Mexico — officially require insurers to pay workers’ comp claims involving medical marijuana.
What happens if my insurance company refuses to pay for the use of medical marijuana as a form of medical treatment?
You may need to pay for the prescription out of your own pocket. Or you can get legal help.
Can a company refuse to hire me because of my use of medical marijuana?
Employers may not discriminate against an employee because they are medical cannabis patients. Mere possession of a medical cannabis registration card is not a cause for an adverse employment action.
However, employers may continue to enforce policies concerning drug testing, zero-tolerance, or a “drug-free workplace” provided the policy is applied in a non-discriminatory manner. Furthermore, employers may continue disciplining employees for violating workplace drug policies, assuming such discipline is applied in a non-discriminatory manner.
Call Capron & Avgerinos
The use of medical marijuana is a dynamic issue, and it’s important that you stay abreast of the topic if you are considering applying for its use in Illinois. Call Capron & Avgerinos now at (855) 208-3904 if you have questions about medical marijuana and your employment in Illinois or Iowa. We are ready to assist you over the phone or in person. We perform our cases on a contingent fee basis, which means we are not paid unless you recover compensation for your claim. Call Capron & Avgerinos at (855) 208-3904 – let us show how we can deliver results for you.