In November, we wrote about a lawsuit filed against Amazon by a New Jersey man claiming he was wrongfully terminated due to a failed marijuana drug test despite being a patient in the state’s medical marijuana program. Now, New Jersey state lawmakers have advanced a bill that would require workers’ compensation to cover medical marijuana.
The bill – A1708 – states that “an employer or workers’ compensation insurance carrier or private passenger automobile insurance carrier shall provide coverage for costs associated with the medical use of marijuana.” The bill further provides that “personal injury protection benefits” provided by state law “shall include coverage for costs associated with the medical use of marijuana provided that: (a) the insured is a qualifying patient authorized for the medical use of marijuana…; and (b) At least one other medication or treatment has been attempted and found to be unsuccessful in treating the patient’s debilitating medical condition.” The bill passed out of the state Assembly committee on financial institutions by a 9-4 vote.
This is a logical extension of legalizing medical marijuana, but also raises concerns for insurers and employers given the marijuana remains an illegal controlled substance under federal law. In conjunction with A1708, lawmakers also passed out of the same committee a bill that protects insurers from any state or local retaliation for engaging with marijuana-related businesses. But federal law remains supreme, and that bill cannot provide protection from the federal government should political winds shift. In a statement before the committee, Alison Cooper, vice president for state affairs for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association expressed that concern, stating, “[b]efore moving forward, we really would like to see Congress resolve that conflict between state and federal law.”
The intersection between marijuana and employment law continues to be a fascinating one, as states and employers try to balance a myriad of different and oftentimes competing concerns. New Jersey is at the forefront of those issues, both in the courts and in the state legislature. We will continue to monitor developments there and across the country on our blog.