Over the past several years, PA has legalized the use of medical marijuana. Given the current difficulties in dealing with the opioid epidemic, this would seem to be a reasonable tool to help injured workers (and anyone else suffering from chronic pain) deal with their conditions without the use of narcotic medications. The controversial status of marijuana, and both PA and Federal law, however, gave us great uncertainty as to whether use of medical marijuana would be covered under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. Two recent decisions by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania answer this question quite clearly in the affirmative.
Notably, the Medical Marijuana Act [MMA] specifically states that “Nothing in [the MMA] shall be construed to require an insurer or a health plan, whether paid for by Commonwealth funds or private funds, to provide coverage for medical marijuana.” Additionally, marijuana remains illegal under Federal law. These two factors have made payment for medical marijuana under the PA Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) nearly impossible. Until now.
The two companion cases on this issue of first impression are Appel v. GWC Warranty Corporation (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board) and Teresa L. Fegley, as Executrix of the Estate of Paul Sheetz v. Firestone Tire & Rubber (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board). Both of these injured workers suffered from severe pain, one from multiple back surgeries and the other from several conditions, including “herniated disc at L5-S1, cervical sprain, disc herniation at L4-L5, lumbar radiculopathy, cervical strain with cervical myofascial spasm, major depression, and aggravation of cervical degenerative spondylosis of degenerative disc disease.”