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New Mexico: Medical Marijuana OK’d for Workers’ Comp

Physician prescribed medical marijuana for pain relief is covered under the bylaws of workers’ compensation, according to the latest ruling from the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

Although cannabis is still considered an illegal substance by the powers of the federal government, the court handed down a verdict earlier this week mandating that Gregory Vialpando, who recently sustained a devastating back injury while at work, should be reimbursed for the medical marijuana he used for pain following a botched spinal surgery.

The ruling finds that Vialpando’s use of medical marijuana under the recommendation of a physician qualifies as reasonable and necessary treatment consistent with the regulations spelled out under the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act.

Interestingly, Vialpando’s employer and insurance provider argued that medical marijuana should receive the same consideration as prescription drugs, which are distributed by federally licensed pharmacies, not pot dispensaries. For this reason, the defendants did not believe they should be responsible for reimbursing the plaintiff.

Yet, the court destroyed this notion by saying, “Medical marijuana is not a prescription drug,” but if that were the case, “our analysis would lead to the same conclusion,” the court wrote. “Indeed, medical marijuana is a controlled substance and is a drug. Instead of a written order from a health care provider, it requires the functional equivalent of a prescription – certification to the program. Although it is not dispensed by a licensed pharmacist or health care provider, it is dispensed by a licensed producer through a program authorized by the Department of Health.”

There was a last ditch argument on behalf of Vialpando’s employer and insurer that reimbursement of funds for medical marijuana would implicate them as criminals in the eyes of the federal government. However, the court said the dispute was unreasonable.

“Although not dispositive, we note that the Department of Justice has recently offered what we view as equivocal statements about state laws allowing marijuana use for medical and even recreational purposes.”

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