The rise in medical cannabis has led to much-needed relief for millions of Americans who are suffering from a long list of ailments. From cancer to PTSD to chronic pain, citizens in over half of all 50 states can now obtain medical marijuana in some way, shape or form. Despite the ability of doctors to recommend cannabis products to many patients, health insurance companies are resistant to cover the costs. Much of this is due to the fact that marijuana remains an illegal schedule I narcotic under federal law.
However, the shifting dynamic of the cannabis industry has some policymakers and judges re-thinking their stances on insurance coverage for marijuana-infused suckers, hash oil, and buds. Currently, the majority of health insurance companies will only pay for Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.)-approved medications and treatments. The agency has approved only a synthetic version of a cannabinoid and a similar drug for narrow uses, such as to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients or to stimulate the appetites of patients with AIDS.
But according to the New York Times, as a result of recent state court rulings in the state of New Mexico, workplace insurers are now required to pay for marijuana-based treatments if they are recommended by a doctor. Lower courts in the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan have also issue similar rulings.
Does this mean that insurance companies, particularly ones that offer group plans to companies, will be paying for White Widow and Orange Crack kief soon? The short answer is – maybe. Medical marijuana can sometimes be purchased by patients with their insurers reimbursing some costs, although the insurance industry is reluctant to send payments directly to dispensaries.
The rulings and growing social reform on the topic of cannabis has become a quandary not just for the health insurance industry but also for employers. Many businesses are wondering how legal marijuana is going to affect workman’s compensation claims. Typically, employees who have been involved in a workplace accident may have to submit to drug testing in order to see if intoxication played a role in the incident. As many pot smokers know, THC can remain in the human body for hours, days, and even weeks after ingestion. This has left employers wondering how they can accurately determine who’s high and who’s not – or if they should test for THC at all.
“We are entering this conflict between a social policy decision and a workplace that is highly regulated,” said Alex Swedlow, the chief executive of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, a research organization. Despite pushes towards legalization, most employers have not removed marijuana from their list of illicit drugs to test for.
As the new administration takes power, medical cannabis proponents hope that progress will be made forward. It is not clear how President-elect Trump will handle marijuana legalization – his pick for attorney general is known to be anti-pot, although it is most likely that Trump will leave this debate to individual states to decide.