Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Medical Cannabis Case from Minnesota

By © McGuire Woods July 7, 2022
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​On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court denied two petitions for a writ of certiorari brought by injured workers in Minnesota who sought reimbursement for medical cannabis used to treat their work-related injuries.

Specifically, the two petitioners sought review of the Minnesota Supreme Court decision holding that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) preempted Minnesota law, which resulted in the denial of coverage and/or reimbursement for medical cannabis in connection with their workers' compensation claims.

Prior to denying the petitions, the U.S. Supreme Court invited the U.S. Solicitor General, Elizabeth Barchas Prelogar, to file a brief expressing the views of the United States on the questions. The Solicitor General maintained that that the CSA does in fact preempt state law, though on a different theory than the courts below.

The Solicitor General acknowledged disagreement in the state courts on preemption, but she argued that state courts have not yet sufficiently considered the potential theories of federal preemption. The government, therefore, urged the U.S. Supreme Court to deny review and permit this fast-evolving area of law to further develop, which is precisely what the court did.

This case is not the first time a state court has ruled on workers' compensation coverage for medical cannabis. Indeed, in 2014, the New Mexico Court of Appeals approved the reimbursement of claims for medical cannabis for work-related injuries.

However, rulings in similar cases in other states have been inconsistent. New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey found that state law was not in conflict with the CSA and authorized workers' compensation claims for medical cannabis, while Maine, Massachusetts and Minnesota found that the CSA preempts state law.

Class Action in New Mexico

Recently, a New Mexico cannabis company, Top Organics-Ultra Health, along with six medical marijuana patients filed a class-action lawsuit in Albuquerque State District Court, seeking insurance coverage for medical marijuana, asserting that medicinal marijuana should be covered because it is a legitimate behavioral health service.

The suit is based on the passage of Senate Bill 317, which requires insurers to cover the full costs of behavioral health services, "including treatments prescribed for behavioral health conditions."

The bill was passed in April 2021 and took effect on Jan. 1.

Healthcare providers are recommending that patients use medicinal marijuana to help combat mental and behavioral health issues, but patients are still having to pay for the medicinal marijuana, a practice the patients and Ultra-Health allege violates Senate Bill 317.

Various insurance companies also are named in the suit. The suit alleges that Ultra-Health and the six medicinal marijuana patients are seeking "recovery for themselves, and for every other similarly situated behavioral or mental health patient unlawfully subjected to paying for the entire cost of medically necessary cannabis, in violation of state law."

The lawsuit comes months after Ultra-Health sent a letter to insurers and the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, advocating for insurers to include coverage for medicinal marijuana used to treat behavioral health conditions.

The letter provided data showing that of the 134,307 patients enrolled in the state medical marijuana program, over one-half have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The letter also pointed out that New Mexico law already requires workers' compensation insurers to provide coverage for medicinal marijuana. When regulators and insurers failed to respond to Ultra-Health's letter, the parties filed suit.

McGuire Woods ©2022. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. 



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