On February 25, 2021, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, in Matter of
Quigley v. Village of E. Aurora, ruled that an employer/workers compensation carrier (E/C) was required to reimburse a claimant’s medical marijuana use as a workers compensation treatment under New York’s medical marijuana law, known as the Compassionate Care Act.
In its opinion, the court held that the state’s Compassionate Care Act does not conflict with and is not preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The court noted that under the Compassionate Care Act, the E/C is merely required to reimburse a claimant for the costs associated with medical marijuana obtained from a medical practitioner, an activity not expressly prohibited by the CSA. The court also found that compelling the E/C to “fund” a claimant’s medical marijuana use does not expose the E/C to criminal liability under the CSA because even if the claimant’s procurement and possession of marijuana were illegal under the CSA, such transaction would be completed before the claimant’s request for reimbursement.
The court also held that the E/C was not statutorily exempt from providing reimbursement pursuant to New York Public Health Law § 3368(2)—which exempts insurers and health plans under the New York Public Health Law or Insurance Law from providing coverage for medical marijuana expenses. The court said that the humanitarian and economic purposes underlying the Workers’ Compensation Law, coupled with the fact that the plain meaning of the statute provides no exception for workers compensation insurers, shows that the legislature did not intend to exempt workers compensation insurers from the obligation to reimburse injured claimants for their medical marijuana expenses.
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