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Workers’ Compensation
US Supreme Court Asked to Rule Whether Workers’ Comp Covers Medical Marijuana

A Minnesota woman claims years of opioid prescriptions and surgeries failed to help her, and she began paying for medical marijuana out of pocket. Eventually, she sought and won her claim for coverage under the state workers’ compensation code.
  • Timothy Darragh
  • February 2022
  • print this page

Hartford Insurance Group is fighting a Minnesota woman's request to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her appeal of a state high court decision that federal law prohibits coverage of medical marijuana treatments under the state's workers' compensation law.

Susan Musta is asking the Supreme Court to hear her appeal of a ruling in favor of Hartford and her former employer, Mendota Heights Dental Center. Musta was a hygienist at the center in 2003 when she hurt her back attempting to catch an elderly patient who was falling, according to her brief to the court.

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Years of opioid prescriptions and surgeries failed to help her, it said, and she began paying for medical marijuana out of pocket. Eventually, she sought and won her claim for coverage under the state workers' compensation code. The center and Hartford appealed, and a divided Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the federal Controlled Substances Act preempted the order requiring coverage for medical marijuana.

Musta's appeal noted that while the Minnesota Supreme Court decision agreed with a ruling by the high court in Maine, supreme courts in New Jersey and New Hampshire came to the opposite conclusion. In the end, the Minnesota Supreme Court said Congress has not acted to make possession of cannabis legal, so the Controlled Substances Act preempted coverage.

In her appeal, Musta's lawyers said the Controlled Substances Act “provides a complex, carefully reticulated scheme of regulation of controlled substances.” However, citing the dissent from the Minnesota Supreme Court, they said the act “does not 'purport to regulate insurance practices in any manner.'”

The New York chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and cannabis industry groups from New York joined Musta's U.S. Supreme Court appeal recently. They argued that because of the legal conflict among the states and between the states and the federal government—which labeled cannabis as a dangerous Schedule 1 drug—the court could only resolve the problem by determining the Schedule 1 status to be unenforceable.

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An attempt to obtain comment from Hartford was not immediately successful.

Cannabis Market Growth Expected but Federal Laws Remain a Roadblock, an AM Best report released on June 30, found that the cannabis industry would continue to grow, but federal law was a barrier to faster expansion.

In 2018, New Jersey lawmakers debated a bill to require workers' compensation insurers to cover medical marijuana. It did not pass, but the New Jersey Supreme Court in April 2021 said prescribed medical marijuana should be covered by workers' compensation insurance.


Timothy Darragh is an associate editor. He can be reached at timothy.darragh@ambest.com.



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