Legalized marijuana is a key employment and risk management issue. Debate continues to heat up on this issue as more states move toward legalization. This RIMS 2015 session provided updates on the process as it relates to the workplace.
- Markie Davis, Risk Manager, State of Colorado
- Kevin Glennon, Vice President – Home Health & Complex Care, One Call Care Management
With marijuana, the THC component gives you the high, but there are other properties of the plant that can have good medicinal properties when the THC component is removed. There are few studies available because it is still illegal federally, but individuals are seeing uses to treat a wide variety of conditions, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, nausea, glaucoma and cancer. This medicinal benefit seems to come from the ingestible form, rather than the smoked form of marijuana.
Marijuana is still classified as a schedule one substance, which includes the most dangerous illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. Currently, there is a bill on the table to reclassify it to a schedule two drug and another bill to reorganize it under the DEA like tobacco. The panel believes that we will have evidence-based medicine in this area soon as the marijuana revolution continues and if the reclassification occurs.
According to the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, marijuana is still an illegal substance. It is still considered illegal in a drug-free workplace. If used in the workplace, it can affect health and safety of workers. Its intoxication levels vary by person, including regularity of its use. Workplace drug testing can identify a marijuana user from urine for 1-5 days of use for occasional use. It can remain in the system for up to six weeks for users who utilize three times a week or more. Future outlook shows that reclassification would create significant upheaval in employers’ drug free workplace policies. Likely, employers will have to transition from a zero-tolerance policy to an intoxication policy (similar to alcohol).
In workers’ compensation, marijuana is predominantly requested to manage chronic pain. Studies show the side effects may be less risky than opioid painkillers. It is not approved in the ODG or ACOEM practice guidelines, so payers deny medical marijuana claims in workers’ compensation. In 2014, however, a judge in New Mexico ruled that the employer did not have to pay for the medicinal marijuana directly, but did have to reimburse the injured employee for out-of-pocket expenses related to the purchase of it. This might lead to similar future legislation.
In Colorado, although marijuana is legalized for both medicinal and recreational use, the law allows employers to enforce a drug-free workplace. Since marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, doctors can not prescribe it – they can only recommend it. It also must be filled at a dispensary, not a pharmacy. That is how Colorado has avoided having to pay for marijuana as part of treatment for workers’ compensation claims.
Due to the overwhelming amount of tax dollars Colorado collected from marijuana’s legalization, the panel foresees that many states will follow and recommend that risk managers get ready for this change.