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Minnesota Workers’ Compensation: The Feasibility and Legality of Medical Marijuana Treatment for Pain

On Behalf of | Jul 30, 2018 | Workers' Compensation

Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) Commissioner Ed Ehlinger decided that “intractable pain” is a legitimate and qualifying condition under the state’s medical cannabis program. Ehlinger based his decision on popular public support for adding “intractable pain” to the criteria for legal medical marijuana use despite the recommendations by a state advisory panel citing lack of solid, scientific, peer-reviewed evidence on the topic. Of primary concern was Ehlinger’s desire to leave discretion of prescribing medical marijuana in such cases to physicians. This decision has resulted in patients being able to seek approval for said treatment as early as 1 August 2016, and the certification process is the same for other patients with previously qualifying medical conditions.

So, if you have a Minnesota Workers’ Compensation injury and are curious as to whether you can receive medical marijuana for your pain, read on for more information.

What is Intractable Pain?

There is a sharp distinction between “pain” and “intractable pain” under the law. Pursuant to Minnesota’s medical cannabis law, “intractable pain” is:

“Pain [that] cannot be removed or otherwise treated … and which, in the generally accepted course of medical practice, no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts.”

Medical Marijuana and Minnesota Workers’ Compensation

To keep abreast with half of U.S. states, Minnesota has specifically included medical cannabis as a legitimate treatment for certain illnesses and injuries covered under workers’ compensation claims even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved cannabis for any medical condition.

The underlying rationale for Minnesota’s decision is abundant data and medical opinions suggesting that chronic pain can, in fact, be effectively treated with marijuana, an increasing professional opinion that marijuana is safer than more traditional opioids over the long-term, and that medical cannabis is less expensive than other treatments.

There is an increasing consensus among workers’ compensation insurance companies and physicians that any treatment with the potential to reduce opioid dependency should be seriously considered due to the considerable payments made to injured employees under the current system and the steadily rising incidence of opioid addiction and related deaths. This consensus led to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s adoption of a rule essentially decriminalizing medical cannabis for injured employees under state workers’ compensation law.

Simply meeting the “intractable pain” criteria does not automatically grant an injured worker automatic acceptance into the medical marijuana program. Due to the potential inherent risk of marijuana use in some populations—including medical cannabis—Ehlinger cautions medical professionals to proceed carefully with individuals who have a demonstrated personal or familial history of psychosis.

Another oft-cited consideration is that since Minnesota has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the U.S. designed to limit the potential for abuse, acceptable treatments under state law do not include smoking marijuana. Instead, the state requires medical cannabis treatment be in the following forms:

  • Pill
  • Liquid
  • Vapor

Additionally, Minnesota’s program limits acceptable medical cannabis to only two manufacturers that have demonstrated strong security measures and process controls.

Around the U.S.

In some states like New Mexico, courts have ruled on the reasonableness and medical necessity of medical marijuana for injured workers and that it should be a covered treatment under workers’ compensation laws. In one case, Lewis v. American General Media and Gallagher Bassett, the plaintiff’s physician testified that the “benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risk of hyper doses of narcotic medications.”

A Word of Caution

Despite Minnesota’s acceptance of medical cannabis as a legal treatment under workers’ compensation laws, it is neither necessary nor reasonable in every case where it may be recommended. Experts stress the importance of better guidelines and standards for determining whether medical marijuana is the best course of action because other treatments such as anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-seizure pharmaceuticals, acupuncture, and physical therapy, for example, exist for pain without the addiction potential inherent to opioids.

Long Term Goals

MDH is committed to assessing data on the “intractable pain” patient population regularly to determine the program’s efficacy and outcomes.

For more information please contact us.