What Do You Think: Did Dental Center Have to Cover Hygienist's Medical Pot?

03 Jan, 2022 Frank Ferreri


Minneapolis, MN (WorkersCompensation.com) – The issue of medical marijuana and workers’ compensation has been in the news in recent years as questions have arisen over whether employers are required to reimburse injured employees for the cost of cannabis used in to treat their work-related injuries.

Such was the question the Minnesota Supreme Court recently faced when a dental center hygienist was injured on the job and multiple rounds of medical intervention didn’t cut it.

After the hygienist’s neck injury and experience with unsuccessful medical options, including conservative care, chiropractic treatment, medication management, physical therapy, injection therapy, and surgery, her doctor certified her for participation in Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

The hygienist had been prescribed Vicodin and fentanyl, but the narcotics caused side effects.

Although the center agreed with the hygienist that medical cannabis was a reasonable and necessary treatment for the employee’s chronic pain, it argued that the federal prohibition in the Controlled Substances Act preempted the requirement under Minnesota’s workers’ compensation laws for an employer to pay for an injured employee’s medical treatment when that treatment was medical cannabis.

A compensation judge ruled in the hygienist’s favor, ordering the center to reimburse her for medical cannabis. On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s ruling, prompting the center to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is in the most restrictive category and cannot be lawfully prescribed. Nonetheless, Minnesota law allows for the use of medical cannabis, including to treat work-related injuries, and Congress has prohibited the U.S. Department of Justice from using allocated funds to prevent states from implementing medical cannabis laws.

Did the center have to cover the cost of the hygienist’s medical marijuana?

A. Yes. Despite the federal law, nothing can prevent a state from following its own laws.

B. No. Federal law preempts state law and so it must be followed regardless of what the state enacts.

If you chose B, you agreed with the court in Musta v. Mendota Heights Dental Center, 965 N.W. 2d 312 (Minn. 2021), which explained that federal law takes priority over state law regardless of policy favoring states’ making their own medical marijuana decisions.

“Despite action in multiple states relating to medical cannabis and other cannabis-related issues, Congress has never chosen to de-schedule or re-schedule cannabis,” the court wrote. “It has instead used funding mechanisms to institute temporary, short-term stays of enforcement.”

Requiring the center to reimburse the hygienist for medical cannabis would be the same as requiring it to aid and abet a federal crime, in the court’s view.

“This reimbursement, which [the center] must comply with as it is embedded in a judicial order, finances [the hygienist’s] possession and effectively facilitates future possession,” the court reasoned.

Ultimately, the court overruled the previous decisions and held that Minnesota’s workers’ compensation laws did not require the center to violate federal law by aiding and abetting the hygienist’s marijuana possession.

This feature does not provide legal advice.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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