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How Cannabis Can Affect Workers’ Compensation


In Massachusetts, the possession of cannabis for recreational purposes recently became legal – at least pursuant to Commonwealth law. Nevertheless, much like alcohol, being under the influence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) , the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, while at work is not permissible, and, in many cases, like alcohol, can be grounds for termination. As this legalization is recent, obtaining the services of an attorney experienced in workplace-related matters can be advantageous. Further, and also like alcohol, being under the influence of THC may void any potential benefits an individual may be eligible to receive if he/she suffers a workplace-based injury. Unfortunately, as THC remains in the body much longer than alcohol, there is no present way to determine if an employee is “under the influence.” A Methuen woman, unfortunately, was terminated after a positive drug test administered after a workplace accident. A discussion of the still-evolving situation involving workers’ compensation benefits in light of both federal and Massachusetts cannabis law, will follow below.

The Law on Cannabis

As mentioned above, Massachusetts law permits the recreational use of cannabis. However, it is important to note that Congress has not altered its classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 Narcotic. Accordingly, possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law. While currently, federal law enforcement personnel have not focused efforts on the prosecution of individuals in possession of cannabis, as long as cannabis is a Schedule 1 Narcotic, the risk will always be inherent that one in possession of cannabis may be arrested and charged federally.

Further, in a previous ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that employees who are in possession of a valid medical-related cannabis identification cards cannot be fired for use of the drug. However, neither the Commonwealth’s courts nor lawmakers have afforded any such protections for recreational users of cannabis. Thus, it is also important to note that employers can terminate their employees for doing something that is both legal (according to Commonwealth law) and wholly unrelated to their job.

Further complicating the interaction between federal and Massachusetts law are the terms of the worker’s compensation contracts. Specifically, amid the legal contradictions between federal and Massachusetts law, many worker’s compensation payers are choosing to ensure that they are compliant with all laws, which means that they will deny coverage for any type of cannabis use, even medical.

Even in the realm of medical cannabis, since prescription-writing is governed by federal law, physicians cannot write a prescription for cannabis use without potentially running afoul of their medical licenses; rather, physicians can only recommend cannabis use. Thus, since medical cannabis cannot be prescribed, medical cannabis is not currently included in most worker’s compensation treatment guidelines.

What to do

When one suffers a workplace-related accident, typically, one will be required to take a drug test. Unfortunately, as alluded to above, discoverable remnants of THC can remain in the body for weeks after ingestion. Thus, the most obvious thing to do in this situation is to refrain from ingestion of cannabis.

However, this may not be desirable, or even possible if an individual has already suffered an injury. In such a case, it is best to consult the terms of the worker’s compensation policy to determine if the policy is one that would typically deny benefits if a drug test comes back positive. If so, then documentation is key – not only of the accident, but documentation about when the last time the individual ingested cannabis. Such information will help an experienced attorney plan to combat the potential denial of benefits.

Seek Legal Advice

If you, or a loved one, has been denied workers’ compensation benefits, in which the basis for the denial is that you or your loved one were under the influence of cannabis, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at Leontire & Associates, P.C. have the experience necessary to analyze your case and work to ensure you get the benefits you deserve. Contact our Boston office today.


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