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Worker’s compensation and medical marijuana: What is covered?

Before North Carolina ended its legislative session in August, a bill passed recognizing the therapeutic effects of marijuana. The North Carolina Epilepsy Alternative Treatment Act allows individuals with a certain form of epilepsy to use a type of marijuana, or hemp extract, as a treatment as long as it is prescribed by a neurologist in a specific pilot study and does not exceed certain maximum percentages.

The connection to workers' compensation is that many injuries for which workers receive benefits include drugs needed for treatment and recovery. So, what if one of those prescribed medications is medical marijuana?

The North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act has a specific provision that covers epilepsy. It is not far-fetched to believe that these two issues may clash at some point in the near future. When it does happen, other issues may arise in the employment realm.

First, what if the employer requires drug testing of its employees? If an employee tests positive for marijuana, but can produce a valid card for its use, what are the employer’s rights if it prohibits its use in the workplace for safety reasons?

What about interaction with other employees? What if another employee is allergic to the smell of marijuana? What if the employer had a rule that employees cannot wear perfume because co-workers could be allergic? While perfume isn’t usually a medical necessity, how can an employer prohibit perfume in the workplace while allowing an otherwise illegal substance?

Now that North Carolina has opened the door, this question will probably arise soon and the answers are likely to be unclear. Workers may have a problem with either side of the issue. Whether an employee is claiming the right to be reimbursed for medical marijuana by workers' compensation or has a medical objection to being subjected to marijuana smoke, the person may require legal advice. An attorney who is familiar with the new law, as well as the workers’ compensation law in general, will be a good resource to help navigate these questions.

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