Delaware State Court Reviews Use of Medical Marijuana & Workers’ Compensation

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Another day, another marijuana-related ruling – this time from the Delaware Superior Court. In an opinion issued in late July, the court analyzed whether medical marijuana use should be compensated under workers’ compensation.
The case started as many others do: the claimant suffered an injury at work leading to a years’ long battle by the individual for effective pain management due to a chronic issue caused by the injury. At numerous points along the way, the employer filed different petitions to terminate benefits claiming each time the claimant’s disability had ended. At all stages, the Industrial Accident Board (IAB) denied the employer’s petitions.  
By 2014 (the initial injury occurred in 1998), the claimant started using recreational marijuana which he found to be effective in pain management. He was subsequently approved for medical marijuana which he began using in 2015. For his injury, he had been treated with a variety of solutions including epidural injections, physical therapy and prescription medication (including various narcotics). Starting in 2016, he was weaned off narcotics.
In 2019, the claimant sought additional compensation for the medical marijuana expenses incurred since 2015. The IAB heard conflicting testimony by two medical experts who disagreed on whether the medical marijuana treatment is a “reasonable and necessary” replacement for opioids. Following the hearing, the IAB denied the claimant’s petition finding he did not demonstrate the medical marijuana treatment was reasonable and necessary. The claimant appealed leading us to the Superior Court ruling.
The court was not persuaded by the claimant’s arguments finding that the issue presented was not whether medical marijuana may be used; rather, whether he should be compensated for its use. For that reason, the IAB’s decision was governed by the Workers’ Compensation Act – not the Medical Marijuana Act. Further, the evaluation of whether medical treatment is reasonable and necessary is an individualized inquiry which may or may not include the use of medical marijuana.
Accordingly, the court determined the factual conclusions reached by the IAB were supported by substantial evidence, free from legal error and thus did not abuse its discretion. Therefore, the IAB’s decision to deny the petition for additional compensation for medical marijuana was affirmed.