In what could become a precedent-setting decision, New Jersey Judge Ingrid French ordered an insurance company to pay for medical marijuana for an injured worker who suffers from lingering neuropathic pain after an accident involving a power saw at an 84 Lumber outlet in 2008.
The worker, 39-year-old Andrew Watson, was seeking reimbursement for MMJ he’d bought in 2014 after enrolling in the New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. He also sought to be covered for the treatment in the future.
French found that Watson’s intractable neuropathic pain fell under New Jersey’s list of qualifying conditions.
The judge took into account testimony from a psychiatrist/neurologist who said medical marijuana was an appropriate treatment for Watson to reduce prescription opiates to treat his complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), an uncommon form of chronic pain.
“Evidence presented in these proceedings show that the petitioner’s ‘trial’ use of medicinal marijuana has been successful,” French said. “While the court is sensitive to the controversy surrounding the medicinal use of marijuana, whether or not it should be prescribed for a patient in a state where it is legal to prescribe it is a medical decision that is within the boundaries of the laws in the state.”
In her eight-page decision, French wrote that Watson’s testimony was credible: “Ultimately, the petitioner was able to reduce his use of oral narcotic medication… The court found the petitioner’s approach to his pain management needs has been cautious, mature, and overall, he is exceptionally conscientious in managing his pain.”
Another expert witness, psychiatrist Dr. Edward H. Tobe, described the benefits of medical marijuana and the risks of opiates.
“Opiates can shut down breathing (whereas) marijuana cannabinoids won’t,” he said,according to an excerpt of his testimony, reported The Inquirer. “Marijuana does not affect the mid-brain. The mid-brain is critical in controlling respiration, heart rate, many of the life-preserving elements.”
John Gearney, a labor attorney who writes a weekly blog on workers’ compensation cases, said the ruling was the first in New Jersey to address whether an insurer should pay for medical marijuana.
“There are about 50 workers’ compensation judges in the state, and they will read it and see what the judge thought when a case like it comes before them,” Gearney said.
Philip Faccenda, the lawyer who represented Watson, said the decision might also benefit insurance companies.
“We believe this will offer very powerful cost savings with respect to the entire workers’ compensation industry in New Jersey,” Faccenda said. “More costly pharmaceuticals can be reduced and medical marijuana would be a less expensive treatment modality.”
Thankfully, lawyers representing 84 Lumber said in an email on Thursday that they don’t intend to appeal the decision.
“With respect to the recent decision, we respect the court’s decision,” the email read. “At this juncture there is no plan to appeal.”
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