Director—Regulatory & Legislative Analysis, NCCI
In August 2017, NCCI introduced a series of five articles on ncci.com called The Marijuana Conversation. As updates occur, NCCI will continue this conversation. Marijuana legalization continues to be a hot topic, so NCCI is exploring the questions we’ve been getting from our workers compensation industry stakeholders. They include:
Have there been any new developments at the federal level? Has the new Administration taken a position yet?
Several bills addressing the legalization of marijuana are pending before Congress, and on April 20, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced his plans to introduce federal legislation that would decriminalize marijuana. In the meantime, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and is classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, there are some recent federal developments impacting marijuana.
In January 2018, the US Department of Justice rescinded the former Administration’s nationwide guidance regarding enforcement of federal marijuana laws. (The previous guidance, known as the “Cole Memo,” suggested that federal law enforcement officials focus their marijuana enforcement efforts on certain federal priorities. The memo noted that the guidance was based on the expectation that state and local governments would “implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems” in states that have legalized marijuana.) As a result of this guidance being rescinded, federal prosecutors are directed to use prosecutorial discretion as to whether to bring enforcement actions.
Then, in March 2018, Congress passed a budget bill that once again included a provision (also known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment) prohibiting the use of federal funds to prevent the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
What does this mean? While the ramifications of these developments are not fully known, it could mean that the federal government might bring enforcement actions in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Has this uncertainty impacted state interest in legalizing marijuana?
It doesn’t appear so. This year, at least 25 states considered, or are considering, legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes.
Which states have legalized marijuana this year?
Despite the large volume of legislative activity, so far only one state—Vermont—has passed legislation this year to legalize either medical or recreational marijuana use. Vermont legalized the recreational use of marijuana and was the first state to do so through legislation rather than a ballot measure.
With the passage of the Vermont law, there are now nine states (plus the District of Columbia) that have legalized recreational marijuana. To date, 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) have legalized medical marijuana.
Have there been any significant new rulings from the courts?
Not yet this year, but a decision is pending from Maine’s highest court regarding reimbursement for medical marijuana in workers compensation.
In this case, the workers compensation board determined that the use of medical marijuana was reimbursable and constituted “reasonable and necessary medical treatment.” A similar case was pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court, but that case was settled in March prior to the court rendering a decision.
What is next in the marijuana conversation?
NCCI will continue to monitor and report on marijuana developments as they occur. Also, during our Annual Issues Symposium 2018, in Orlando, FL, Dr. David Deitz will present “Marijuana—The Move to Schedule II” as a follow-up to an article published on ncci.com called, “Medical Marijuana, Occupational Injuries, and the Workplace.” This session will go beyond the legal issues and review the latest in medical evidence for the use of marijuana and its derivatives.
Stay tuned to ncci.com for updates on marijuana legislation and other hot topics throughout the year.
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