Man's Medical Marijuana Treatment Deemed 'Necessary' By Court, Insurance Must Foot The Bill

By McCarton Ackerman 01/12/17

The lumber worker hurt himself on the job and opted to use MMJ when prescription opioids didn't work.

Gavel sitting atop a pile of money.

In a groundbreaking case out of New Jersey, an insurance company has been forced to pay for a man’s medical marijuana treatment, which could set a precedent for future cases.

Andrew Watson, a 39-year-old lumber worker, severely injured his hand in a power saw accident in 2008. Doctors prescribed opioid painkillers for his chronic neuropathic pain, but Watson signed up for New Jersey’s medical marijuana program in 2014. He wanted his insurer at Gallagher Bassett to pay for it, but they had refused for the past several years.

But reported that Judge Ingrid French ruled in favor of Watson last month, deeming cannabis “reasonable and necessary” in his pain management since prescription opioids had not been successful. She considered testimony from local neurologist and psychiatrist, Edward H. Tobe, who cited both the benefits of medical marijuana and the potential for addiction and overdose with the Percocet that Watson was prescribed. French also described Watson's approach as “cautious, mature, and overall ... exceptionally conscientious in managing his pain.”

Watson, who was forced to stop using pot in 2014 because he couldn’t afford to pay for it on his own, will now receive payments from Gallagher Bassett for his medical cannabis treatments.

His attorney, Philip Faccenda, says the ruling could be beneficial for insurance companies. He cited the significantly lower cost of cannabis compared to prescription medications, and said companies in the workers' compensation industry could save money by covering cannabis.

A similar ruling also took place in May 2014, when New Mexico's Court of Appeals ruled that a former mechanic injured on the job could have his former employer and the company’s insurer pay for his medical cannabis treatments. The unanimous vote upheld an earlier ruling from a workers' compensation court.

Although medical marijuana is legal in New Mexico, both his former employer and the insurance company initially objected to paying for these treatments due to pot being illegal at the federal level. The man’s attorney, Peter White, called the ruling “an important decision for workers so seriously injured they would be bound to a lifetime of narcotic medications.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.