Year after year, more states legalize marijuana. Proponents explain legalization can have many perks, including boosting the economy and creating jobs. But, new research shows legal recreational marijuana may come with an additional benefit – a decrease in workers’ compensation claims.
When States Legalize Recreational Marijuana, Workers’ Compensation Claims Decrease
Thousands of Americans are injured on the job annually and will seek workers’ compensation. Unfortunately, while restoring their health and receiving workers’ compensation benefits, many employees will take a significant pay decrease.
From an employer’s perspective, when an employee misses work for a substantial period, the company’s workflow may be disrupted, and hiring a temporary replacement can be expensive.
Yet, according to a new study, legal recreational marijuana may be a critical factor in combating these common workplace problems.
Johanna Catherine Maclean, an economist and associate professor at Temple University, studies substance use’s impact on the labor market. In particular, Professor Maclean researches legalized recreational marijuana and its effect on productivity at work.
Professor Maclean and her colleagues found when states legalize recreational marijuana, it is typical for “a 20% reduction in the probability that a person reports having any income from workers’ compensation” to follow.
How Recreational Marijuana Increases Productivity, Decreases Workers’ Compensation Claims
A 20% decrease in the probability that an employee reports workers’ compensation income is far from inconsequential. But, how does recreational marijuana play a part in workplace productivity and injury prevention?
According to Professor Maclean, the answer is simple – recreational marijuana helps workers treat chronic conditions more efficiently and effectively.
Before diving into how legal recreational marijuana can decrease workers’ compensation claims, it is crucial to understand the differences between recreational and medical marijuana.
Recreational v. Medical Marijuana
Marijuana is illegal at the federal level, but medical marijuana, recreational marijuana, or both are legal in some states. There are a few subtleties between the two categories of legalization.
Medical marijuana is legal in 36 states¹. Typically, to purchase medical marijuana, individuals need a state-issued patient card and government ID showing they are at least 21 years old. Sometimes, individuals under the age of 21 can be eligible for a patient card too. To obtain a patient card, individuals must get a recommendation from a doctor. Further, those with a patient card can often purchase greater quantities of marijuana and products with a higher dosage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana responsible for most of its psychological effects.
Recreational marijuana is legal in 17 states². Individuals must only show a government ID proving they are 21 or older to purchase recreational marijuana. Recreational marijuana is usually sold in smaller quantities, and products have lower doses of THC than medical marijuana. Additionally, recreational marijuana purchases are subject to taxation, unlike medical purchases.
¹ Accurate as of June 24, 2021 ² Accurate as of June 24, 2021
Factors that Increase Productivity, Decrease Workers Compensation Claims
Professor Maclean and her colleagues’ research shows a correlation between recreational marijuana and a drop in workers’ compensation claims, but how is this the case?
- Marijuana helps employees better manage symptoms – For workers aged 40-62 years old (the demographic Professor Maclean and colleagues study), marijuana may help them treat chronic pain, mental health conditions, and sleep disorders – all of which can impact an employee’s work capacity over time.
- Workers can use recreational marijuana to treat generic chronic pain – In states where only medical marijuana is legal, employees looking to treat general chronic pain may be out of luck. To qualify for medical use of marijuana, one must have a qualifying health condition. In some states, general chronic pain is not a qualifying condition.
- Employees more likely to treat with marijuana when doctor’s approval not required – Regardless of increased legalization, the stigma surrounding marijuana usage still very much exists. For this reason, many employees are uncomfortable speaking to their medical care provider about treating their pain with medical marijuana. When states legalize recreational marijuana, individuals are more likely to use marijuana as a treatment method. This is because all they need to do is walk into a store, show their ID, and make a purchase.
Can Using Marijuana Impact My Job or Workers’ Compensation Claim?
In short, the answer is maybe.
Marijuana is legal for recreational use in states across the country. Nonetheless, employees opting to use the drug to treat injuries and pain should keep a few things in mind.
Can My Employer Fire Me for Using Marijuana in Massachusetts?
Recreational and medical marijuana are both legal in Massachusetts. But, this does not fully protect employees who test positive for marijuana from being fired.
If you are a medical marijuana user, you have more rights than recreational users. In 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled employers cannot fire employees with medical marijuana prescriptions simply for using the drug. Instead, employers must work with employees to agree on an arrangement like allowing the use of the drug only outside of work hours. But, this does not mean employers can never fire an employee for using medical marijuana (even if they only use marijuana outside working hours). For instance, jobs that involve contracts with the federal government may need to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act. Further, jobs requiring the use of heavy machinery may argue accommodations for medical marijuana users pose “undue hardship.” However, following this landmark decision, employers possess the burden to prove such hardship.
Whether employers may fire you for the use of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts is an entirely different situation. There are no specific protections in place for recreational users, notwithstanding the fact marijuana is legal in the state. No law stops employers from drug testing employees and firing them if they test positive for marijuana. This is true regardless of whether an employee uses recreational marijuana during or outside their scheduled shift. Individuals who use recreational marijuana outside working hours can still test positive days later, as THC can stay in the human body for days.
With this information in mind, whether you use medical or recreational marijuana, it is essential to note the potential employment issues that may arise.
Will Using Marijuana Impact a Potential Workers’ Compensation Claim?
As discussed above, there is nothing to prevent employers from firing recreational marijuana users. Employers have the right to establish drug-free workplace policies and administer drug tests to their employees.
THC can stay in the human body for days which poses problems for workplace injuries and workers’ compensation claims. Like mentioned previously, in some situations, an employee may use marijuana at home, outside of working hours, and still test positive for it while on the job.
Suppose an employee is injured on the job, but their employer has reason to suspect or knows that they were under the influence of marijuana at the time of the incident. In that case, they may argue that the employee was intoxicated and therefore liable for their own injuries.
As mentioned above, medical marijuana users can work with their employers to make mutually acceptable accommodations.
Will Insurance Pay for My Medical Marijuana Prescription?
Marijuana is used by many to treat a wide range of health conditions. Yet, as medical marijuana rises in popularity and gains more societal acceptance, a common question arises. Will insurance pay for an employee’s medical marijuana purchases?
In Massachusetts, the answer is no; injured workers cannot charge insurers for medical marijuana. The reasoning largely boils down to one factor – marijuana is still federally illegal.
Although Massachusetts law allows patients to use and doctors to prescribe marijuana, engaging in these practices subjects individuals to risk of federal prosecution. If employees could charge insurance companies for medical marijuana, insurance companies would be forced to assume such a risk too. As a result, insurance companies would be made to pay for a federally controlled substance.
Hurt on the Job? Have Questions about Marijuana and Your Workers’ Compensation Claim? Keches Law Group Can Help.
Marijuana law is constantly developing and changing. If you have questions about how marijuana can impact your employment or workers’ compensation claim we can help. Contact us today.