A recent decision by the NJ Superior Court, Appellate Division, entitled Hager v. MK Construction, has caused quite a stir and could have lasting impact on future matters involving the use of medical marijuana. In this case, the NJ appellate division ruled that an employer was required to reimburse its injured employee for the cost of purchase of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain stemming from a work injury. The implications of this case are far-reaching.
The facts of the case are as follows: Vincent Hager, a former employee of M&K Construction suffered an injury at work when a load of concrete was accidentally dropped on him. Hager's injuries were serious and resulted in him undergoing spinal surgery. Hager was unable to continue working at his position. M&K denied Hager's workers' compensation claim for 15 years, according to court documents.
Hager became addicted to painkillers, including OxyContin, Valium, and Oxycodone. Hagen underwent treatment to wean himself off opiates at the direction of his doctor. The treatment included the use of medical marijuana, and was successful in getting Hager off the powerful prescription drugs.
While medical marijuana is legal in some states, insurance companies typically do not reimburse for costs associated with its use. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug in the United States by the Federal government. Even the Food and Drug Administration does not consider marijuana to have any accepted medical uses.
Hager stated that his medical marijuana use costs him over $600 a month for around two ounces.
Hager's case was heard at the trial level in 2018. There, the judge found that Hager had indeed been injured on the job and ordered M&K to reimburse Hager for the cost of medical marijuana. The company quickly filed an appeal, arguing that Federal law preempted New Jersey's medical marijuana laws. M&K claimed that it would be aiding Hager in committing a crime if it reimbursed him for the purchase of marijuana.
On appeal, the NJ appellate division upheld the judgment of the trial court, stating that “M&K is not purchasing or distributing medical marijuana on behalf of [Hager]; it is only reimbursing him for his legal use of the substance.” Thus, reimbursement for the cost of purchase of medical marijuana is not tantamount to aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime.
This case will be significant in future legal matters involving the use of medical marijuana in connection with pain management for work-related injuries.