According to the Courthouse News Service, medical marijuana recommended by a physician for an injured patient's pain must be paid for by the patient's employer and insurer, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled.
Despite marijuana's federal classification as a controlled substance, the court concluded that New Mexico law grants Gregory Vialpando reimbursement for medical marijuana to treat the high-intensity pain that followed failed spinal surgeries caused by a workplace back injury. As the ruling states, Vialpando met the required threshold for payments under New Mexico's workers' compensation laws when his physician diagnosed medical marijuana as reasonable and necessary for his treatment. The August 29 decision is based on a lower court finding that Vialpando's participation in the New Mexico Department of Health's Medical Cannabis Program constitutes reasonable and necessary medical care, the requirement set for reimbursement by the state's Workers' Compensation Act.
Vialpando's employer at the time of the incident, Ben's Automotive Services, and health care provider, Redwood Fire & Casualty, argued that medical marijuana should be treated as a prescription drug. If it were, it would require a pharmacist or health care provider to dispense, which New Mexico's medical marijuana program does not have, and thus, could not be paid for by worker's compensation.
However, the appeals court found that although "medical marijuana is not a prescription drug," if it were, "our analysis would lead to the same conclusion." "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," the court wrote.
Vialpando's employer and insurer also argued that reimbursements would force them to commit a federal crime, or at least violate federal public policy. The appeals court rejected that, as well.
"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."
In terms of the next steps for New Mexico's medical marijuana policies, the state is heading in the right direction considering legalization.