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Minnesota employers aren't on the hook to cover medical marijuana under worker's comp law, court rules

While state law requires businesses to reimburse workers' medical treatment after they're injured on the job, the federal law prohibiting cannabis preempts that, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.

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A marijuana plant thrives in the propagation room where medical cannabis is grown at LeafLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn. (Duluth News Tribune file photo)
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota employers don't have to cover the cost of medical marijuana for workers injured on the job, the state's highest court concluded in a pair of rulings released Wednesday, Oct. 13.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed two lower court rulings, saying that the federal Controlled Substances Act preempts employers from having to pay for medical marijuana treatments for injuries sustained while workers were on the job. The Controlled Substances Act prohibits the possession or use of marijuana, along with other Schedule 1 drugs.

And the high court determined that the employers could be subject to criminal liability if they helped furnish the medical cannabis, which is allowed for eligible patients under Minnesota law but illegal under federal law.

"We agree that a right provided to an individual under Minnesota’s workers’ compensation law to secure reimbursement for the use of medical cannabis to treat a diagnosed medical condition cannot be 'converted into a sword that' requires an employer to pay for those purchases and thus 'engage in conduct that would violate the CSA,'" Associate Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote on behalf of the court.

Anderson wrote that Congress could approve and the president could sign into law new legislation squaring state and federal policy on marijuana.

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The cases stemmed from injuries sustained by workers at a Mendota Heights dental clinic and Prior Lake Polaris dealership. In both cases, the workers enrolled in the state's medical-marijuana program to treat long-term pain and to reduce dependence on opioid painkillers. Each sought reimbursement for their medical cannabis from their employer before the cases were appealed to the courts.

Associate Justice Margaret Chutich wrote opinions agreeing in part and dissenting in part with each of the rulings. Chutich disagreed that the employers could be found guilty of aiding and abetting the workers in obtaining medical cannabis since they'd already bought the drug through the state program and were seeking reimbursement after the fact.

The court's decision hampered the state Legislature's goals in creating the medical marijuana program and would prevent "injured workers who suffer intractable pain from receiving the relief that medical cannabis can bring," Chutich wrote.

Minnesota lawmakers in 2014 approved and then-Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law the THC Therapeutic Research Act, which legalized cannabis for medical use for those with qualifying conditions. But the program has been restrictive and expensive for patients.

Earlier this year, legislators updated the law to allow patients in the program to use dried marijuana flowers, which can be smoked. Supporters of the change said the move could bring down the cost of medical marijuana treatments for patients.

An effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use passed the Minnesota House of Representatives but stalled out in the Senate.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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