New Mexico Court: Employer Must Pay for Cannabis Under Workers’ Comp
The New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled that an employer must reimburse a worker injured on the job for the cost of his medical marijuana.
The court’s ruling came Monday in response to an appeal filed by the employer and its insurer arguing that reimbursing the disabled employee for medical cannabis would cause them to violate federal law. Citing the Department of Justice’s eight federal enforcement priorities as well as the state’s Compassionate Use Act, the appeals court upheld the workers’ compensation judge’s finding that the employee was qualified to participate in the medical marijuana program.
The case involved an automotive worker, Gregory Vialapando, who sustained a lower back injury on the job in June 2000. The injury “resulted in numerous surgical procedures” and a “99 percent permanent partial disability.”
Vialapando was described by his doctor at the time to be suffering “from some of the most extremely high intensity, frequency and duration of pain, out of all the thousands of patients I’ve treated within my seven years practicing medicine,” and was taking “multiple narcotic based pain relievers [and] multiple anti-depressant medications.”
Last April Vialapando filed an application with a workers’ compensation judge, Terry Kramer, requesting approval to treat his ailments with medical marijuana. Kramer found that that the employee was “entitled to ongoing and reasonable care,” was qualified for the cannabis program established in 2007 by the Compassionate Use Act and that “participation in the program constituted reasonable and necessary care.” Kramer then ordered Vialapando pay for the authorized medical marijuana to be reimbursed by the employer and the employer appealed.
“We decline to reverse the order on the basis of federal law or public policy,” the appeals court stated in its ruling.