Court Battles

DOJ urges Supreme Court to deny workers’ bid for medical pot reimbursement

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday urged the Supreme Court to turn away a legal effort by two workers who are seeking reimbursement from their employers for the cost of medical marijuana needed to treat injuries they sustained on the job.

Lawyers for the DOJ told the justices they should steer clear of the dispute, which asks whether a state workers’ compensation law in Minnesota, where medical pot is permitted, is trumped by federal law prohibiting marijuana possession.

The Supreme Court had asked the office of the Solicitor General to weigh in after two workers filed separate petitions for appeal following losses in the Minnesota Supreme Court. The state’s high court ruled that requiring employers to foot the bill for medical marijuana would effectively force them to violate federal law.

“The petitions in these cases, which present a novel question in a rapidly evolving area of law, do not warrant this Court’s review,” the DOJ told the justices in an amicus brief. “The judgments below are correct for the straightforward reason that when a federal law such as the [Controlled Substances Act] prohibits possession of a particular item, it preempts a state law requiring a private party to subsidize the purchase of that item.”

One of the petitioners, Daniel Bierbach, suffered an on-the-job ankle injury at an all-terrain vehicle dealership. Susan Musta sustained a spinal injury while working as a dental hygienist. Both were eventually prescribed medical marijuana for pain management.

The four state supreme courts that have addressed the legal question at issue have split evenly. Maine’s top court shares the view of Minnesota that federal law preempts reimbursement for medical marijuana. The supreme courts of New Hampshire and New Jersey have reached the opposite conclusion.

In urging the Supreme Court to turn away the appeals, the DOJ suggested it would be premature for the justices to weigh in now, noting that “only four state courts of last resort” have addressed the issue and that state courts have not fully explored the legal question.

Updated 5:24 p.m.

Tags Department of Justice medical marijuana medical pot Supreme Court Supreme Court

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