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Twin Rivers Paper Company cannot be compelled to reimburse the costs of an injured worker’s medical marijuana because the federal Controlled Substances Act trumps the state’s Medical Marijuana Law.
Gaetan Bourgoin suffered a work related back injury while employed at Twin Rivers Paper Company in 1989 in the State of Maine. Eventually he received total disability benefits. He was not a candidate for surgery and tried numerous medications, including narcotics, to control his pain. Mr. Bourgoin suffered negative side effects from opioids, and he sought a certification to utilize medical marijuana.
Mr. Bourgoin filed a claim seeking to require Twin Rivers Paper Co. to pay the costs associated with medical marijuana. The company refused, stating the federal Controlled Substances Act barred it from paying for marijuana. The Maine Workers’ Compensation Board ruled in favor of the worker, Gaetan Bourgoin, and the state appeals court affirmed. Twin Rivers Paper Co. appealed to the State Supreme Court.
In a 5-2 decision, the Maine Supreme Court reversed in favor of the employer, finding there is a conflict between the federal and state law, and as a result, the Controlled Substance Act preempts the state’s medical marijuana law.
In reaching their decision, the court noted that federal law bars use of marijuana, and any other schedule 1 drug, even for medical purposes. Therefore, ordering an employer to compensate an employee for medical marijuana costs improperly requires an employer to aid and abet in the commission of a federal crime.
Justice Hjelm noted, “A person’s right to use medical marijuana cannot be converted into a sword that would require an employer to engage in conduct that would violate the Controlled Substance Act.”
The ruling will send the case back to the Workers’ Compensation Division to vacate the decision of the hearing officer and deny payment of medical expenses and services for medical marijuana. While this decision applies only to the State of Maine, the case is significant because the same rationale can be raised in other states that have medical marijuana laws.
The case can be found at Bourgoin v. Twin Rivers Paper Co., LLC, 2018 ME 77.
Andrea Schlafer, Esq., is a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Ms. Schlafer concentrates her practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Ms. Schlafer at 856.813.4140 or by e‑mail at email@example.com.