Workers’ Compensation and Marijuana: The Supreme Court Rules on Cannabis

The Supreme Court recently took up the issue of whether or not Workers’ Compensation carriers are required to pay for medical marijuana. Andrew Panaggio suffered a work-related injury to his lower back in 1991; it was settled in 1997. However, his benefits remained open, as is common practice in New Hampshire. Panaggio continued to suffer ongoing pain as a result of the work-related injury, and in 2016 the Department of Health and Human Services determined that Panaggio qualified as a patient in the therapeutic cannabis program and issued him a cannabis registry identification card. Mr. Panaggio then purchased medical marijuana and submitted his receipt to the Worker’s Compensation insurance carrier for reimbursement.

The carrier, CNA Insurance Company, denied reimbursement on the ground that “medical marijuana is not reasonable/necessary or causally related” to his injury. The hearing officer and the Compensation Appeals Board agreed with the denial of benefits.

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire disagreed and reversed and remanded the case for further action. The Court noted that the statutes in other jurisdictions expressly prohibit Workers’ Compensation insurance carriers from reimbursing claimants for the cost of medical marijuana. However, the Legislature in New Hampshire has not done so yet.

Accordingly, the Court found that since “the board’s order fails to sufficiently articulate the law that supports the board’s legal conclusion and fails to provide an adequate explanation of its reasoning regarding federal law, it is impossible for us to discern the basis for the board’s decision sufficient for us to conduct meaningful review.”

The issue was remanded to the board for further action.