Last month the Maine Supreme Court struck a blow against medical marijuana users and the marijuana industry in Maine. In the case, a worker who sustained a work-related injury received a prescription for marijuana to treat his pain. Maine’s Workers Compensation Board ordered the employer to cover the cost of the marijuana but the Maine Supreme Court reversed that decision because, according to the Court, it conflicted with federal law. Two Justices on the Court dissented from the decision.
The Court reasoned that if the employer was forced to pay for its employee’s medical marijuana, it would violate federal laws that still classify marijuana as a dangerous controlled substance. Those laws prohibit anyone from “aiding and abetting” someone in possessing or selling marijuana. The Court determined that if the employer paid for its employee’s marijuana, it would aid and abet the employee’s violation of federal law and, thus, violate the law itself. In circumstances such as this, the Court held, federal law preempts state law and state law cannot be enforced against the employer.
The Court expressly stated that it was not deciding whether Maine’s marijuana law was entirely invalid. The Court noted that courts in other states have held that state law protections for marijuana consumers who choose to buy marijuana are not preempted by federal law. The Court, thus, left the issue of the validity of these consumer protections for another day.
Interestingly, in explaining the reasoning for its decision, the Court relied on cases from other states where those states’ courts held that employers did not have to permit employees to use medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation for disabilities. While workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities was not an issue in this case, and thus this case is not dispositive on this issue, the Court’s reliance on these decisions could impact employer’s decisions on requests for accommodations. Employers who want to deny requests from disabled employees to use medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation for their disabilities will likely cite this decision.