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Marijuana and Workers’ Compensation

Marijuana can affect workers’ compensation in many different ways. A major concern is whether your claim can be denied because you used medical marijuana. The second concern is whether a worker can use medical marijuana as part of their treatment for any injuries or diseases.

In North Carolina, the possession of marijuana for recreational and medical use are generally illegal. In Virginia, the recreational use of less than an ounce of marijuana may be legal if certain conditions are met. Medical marijuana in Virginia is also legal if certain conditions are met.

Is recreational marijuana legal/illegal in Virginia and North Carolina?

In Virginia, adults 21 and older are allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis on their person, in a private place such as their home, or in any public place. The marijuana can even be shared among adults 21 and older – subject to certain conditions such as not tying the sharing to the purchase of another item. Home cultivation of up to four plants per household by adults 21 and older is also legal in Virginia.

Many other restrictions apply that make possession, sale, and/or distribution of marijuana in Virginia illegal.

In North Carolina, possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal.

Is medical marijuana legal/illegal in Virginia and North Carolina?

In Virginia, cannabis for medical purposes is generally legal if the patient has a current written certified prescription from a board-registered practitioner. Effective July 1, 2022, one no longer has to have, in addition to the prescription, a physical medical cannabis card from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. You only need the prescription. You can find more information by visiting the Department of Health Professions: Board of Pharmacy’s website.

As of 2022, North Carolina has not approved cannabis for medical use.

North Carolina did on June 30, 2022, “legalize hemp and all CBD-infused products. This new law is in line with the US Farm Bill in 2018 which removed hemp from the DEA’s Controlled Substance List and defined it as a cannabis product with less than 0.3 THC. Hemp and marijuana are both derivatives of cannabis but contain different components. While hemp contains the non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD), marijuana contains the intoxicating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).”

North Carolina does permit “cannabis extracts with less than 0.9% THC and at least 5% CBD, by weight, to be used medicinally” as an alternative treatment for patients diagnosed with intractable epilepsy.

Marijuana and your workers’ compensation claim

Marijuana may affect the following workers’ compensation issues depending on where you live or work – and other factors:

  • Eligibility for workers’ compensation. The distinction between legal and illegal use could make a difference in your eligibility for workers’ compensation. But just as the use of alcohol may be problematic, the use of marijuana may be problematic. Generally, in workers’ compensation claims, you do not have to prove the employer was at fault – to file a worker’s compensation claim in either North Carolina or Virginia. You are generally entitled to workers’ compensation even if your negligence caused the accident – provided the accident occurred during the scope of your employment.

Intoxication on the Job. The issue gets more complicated if an employer says that your negligent conduct was caused by the fact that you were intoxicated. For example, if your level of alcohol or other intoxicating substance causes your company vehicle to crash, the employer will likely argue that you are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Likewise, if you slip from heights due to loss of balance, and suffer severe injuries because of your intoxication, your employer will try to deny your claim. The same idea holds true for marijuana use. If your marijuana use is the cause of the accident – even if it is legal to use marijuana in your state, like alcohol, then your workers’ compensation claim may still be denied.

That being said, the difference with marijuana is that unlike alcohol, which tends to quickly metabolize in the body, the active ingredient in marijuana-THC-can take weeks to leave your system. So that oftentimes even if one was not “high” at the time of the accident, a drug test can come back positive for THC, even though the last time the claimant used marijuana occurred days or even weeks prior to the accident. Then there is oftentimes a “battle” of toxicology experts to argue whether the level of THC found in your blood that you likely had at or near the time of the accident proves that you were likely intoxicated or impaired, or not.

This issue of a positive test for THC becomes even more complicated if the employer has a company policy prohibiting any marijuana use, even while not on the job. These types of rules are sometimes seen in sensitive jobs which require a security clearance but many large companies also have blanket bans on employees using marijuana on and off the job.

  • Credibility. Denial of marijuana use may raise a credibility issue if your medical records and drug tests indicate that you have used marijuana. It can also cause you to be fired for cause if it is prohibited by an employer, which, particularly in Virginia, can, for all intents and purposes, end your case.
  • Reimbursement. Generally, even though medical marijuana is legal if certain conditions are met in Virginia – that does not mean a worker can be reimbursed for the expense of purchasing the marijuana. As of this writing, only six States require reimbursement for prescriptions for medical marijuana in workers compensation cases. Virginia and North Carolina are not among those States. That is because at this time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still has not approved Marijuana as a drug for any purpose.
  • Usage. Generally, if medical marijuana can be legally used in Virginia, injured workers or workers with diseases may legally use the marijuana. While employers should not be able to assert that using a substance that is now legal affects their claim, (unless they have a written rule or policy against it) you should be aware that many physician’s offices, particularly those in the field of pain management, will expel you from the practice if you are use marijuana that is not prescribed by the pain physician. This could have a negative effect on your claim.

In addition, as noted above, if you have a job that has sensitive security issues, such as certain government contract jobs, even if you are out of work per your doctor, and even if your doctor prescribes medical marijuana, if the rules of your job prohibit the use of marijuana, you do not want to risk being fired for cause.

If one regularly uses marijuana in Virginia, and you believe it is a good option for pain relief, and you are offered a panel of three pain physicians, if possible, you should try to pick one that has an option in their pain management practice of medical marijuana for pain control. Once you are accepted into that practice, you should then review your options for pain management with that physician.

You should know that oftentimes, though, if you choose the option for medical marijuana use to control your pain, a pain practice will often refuse to prescribe any other type of prescription pain medication if you are using marijuana. Think of this as either going “all in with pot, or not.”

If your doctor approves marijuana usage for pain control then your workers’ compensation benefits should continue, (assuming your employer does not have a blanket prohibition on marijuana use), but again, you should not expect reimbursement from the insurance company for the reasons stated above. If your doctor says you should not use medical marijuana, then any use of the marijuana (even though it’s legal in Virginia), may jeopardize your claim.

Since medical marijuana is not legal in North Carolina, if you use medical marijuana to treat your illness or injury, you could jeopardize your workers’ compensation claim.

Does medical marijuana help?

Virginia generally approves medical cannabis/marijuana for the following conditions provided a certified physician prescribes the usage and the worker/patient meets any other state requirements:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Cachexia
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Epilepsy and other seizure disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis C
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Tourette’s syndrome

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the possible side effects of medical marijuana may include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Slower reaction times
  • Negative drug-to-drug interactions
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Increased appetite
  • Potential for addiction
  • Hallucinations or mental illness
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Some medical marijuana is formulated to provide symptom relief without the intoxicating, mood-altering effects associated with recreational use of marijuana.”

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of cannabis as a treatment for any medical condition. However, the FDA has approved the cannabinoids cannabidiol (Epidiolex) and dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) – for severe forms of epilepsy and for “nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy and for anorexia associated with weight loss in people with AIDS.”

Where can I obtain Medical Marijuana in Virginia? Assuming you have a valid prescription from your doctor for medical marijuana, all you need do is take your prescription and a valid, picture I.D. and go to one of the many medical cannabis dispensaries that are nearest you and has the best selection of products to suit your needs. The dispensary will take a picture of your license and prescription and get your information into their system.

Contact Joe Miller Law Ltd. today to discuss marijuana usage for work injuries and illnesses

Our North Carolina and Virginia lawyer understands when marijuana might affect your right to workers’ compensation benefits. At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer has helped thousands of injured and ill employees obtain just recoveries including temporary and permanent disability benefits. If you have any questions about your claim including marijuana usage, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295 or use my online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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If you are looking at this site, you or a loved one has probably been hurt. If that's true, you've come to the right place. Helping people who have been hurt is what we do. In fact, it is all we do. Joe Miller Law is a law firm concentrating exclusively on representing people who are injured by the carelessness of others or those hurt on the job. We provide the highest quality legal services to people who have been seriously injured. We practice Personal Injury law and Workmens' Compensation law in both Virginia and North Carolina.