When Workplace Insurance Covers Medical Marijuana

The legal dust is still settling in may states, but while federal law still allows the firing of employees for cannabis-positive drug tests, some states now offer protections and even mandate employers to provide insurance coverage for medical cannabis.

As legalization moves forward at the state-level nationwide, the legislative legacy of the Drug War’s 1980s peak still keeps many legal cannabis users in near-constant fear of losing their jobs. But a recent court ruling means some companies will have to cover medical cannabis under their employer-provided health care plans.

It doesn’t matter how many states legalize cannabis or how many millions of people use it, most of their jobs will still be at risk from the often crushing impact of a positive drug test.

If employers want to fire workers for using cannabis — even off the job — they are legally allowed to do so. State and federal “drug-free workplace” laws allow it and the courts have upheld it in the face of several legal challenges.

On the other hand, if you’re retired and in pain? Those same courts say your former employer’s health care plan is financially on the hook for hooking you up.

Greg Vialpando, 58, is a disabled former auto repair worker living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He told the New York Times that he replaced the opiates he’d used to combat pain for a decade with medical marijuana.

“I would recommend that people use medical marijuana over opioids any day,” he said.

Vialpando took his story to state lawmakers who were considering legislation exempting employers from paying for medical cannabis. His story helped to convince them to drop the bill.

Vialpando’s wife, Margaret, said she feels like medical cannabis has saved her and her husband’s quality of life and hopes it will continue to be available to him in the future.

“I feel like I’ve gotten my husband back,” she said. “His personality has come back to the person that he used to be.”

State court rulings in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Mexico mean that — as long as a doctor recommends marijuana for a patient’s ailment — workplace insurers are required to pay for it.

But a very few patients actually receive this coverage, and conspicuously absent from the lists of states offering this protection are adult-use pioneer Colorado and the now complete West Coast bloc of recreational states stretching from Washington, through Oregon and down to the southern tip of California.

The only workers enjoying this insurance guarantee live in states where MMJ laws explicitly prohibit employers from firing approved patients for a positive test.

And the insurance companies use bureaucratic gymnastics to avoid directly purchasing cannabis and running afoul of federal regulators.

Also, none of this seems to apply to workers covered under government insurance programs like Medicaid or Medicare, leaving anyone who’s disabled and not covered by a private workplace insurance plan out of luck and weed.

And it’s worth noting that a positive test for cannabis on a pre-employment screening can mean no job with health insurance to begin with, and a pot-positive post-hire test can mean the end of the job  — and the insurance.

TELL US, should employer-provided insurance cover medical cannabis?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

3 Comments

  1. Frank Altomari

    January 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Utilizing pot is a no brainer, of coarse everyone should be covered regardless if it’s in your system. Everyone should be eating it fresh (no high) because fresh pot and seeds are the healthiest food on planet Earth.

  2. Israel

    November 30, 2016 at 4:30 am

    Absolutely they should!!!!

  3. Susan

    November 29, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Absolutely YES!

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