TRENTON -- A south Jersey man injured on the job at a lumber company will have his medical marijuana tab paid by his employer's workers compensation insurance, according to a state administrative law judge ruling in what appears to be the first decision of its kind in the state.
Andrew Watson of Egg Harbor Township qualified for the state's medicinal marijuana program in 2014 because of a hand injury he suffered while working for 84 Lumber in Pleasantville, according to the administrative law judge's ruling.
Watson bought 2-1/4 ounces of state-sanctioned marijuana in the spring of 2014 but when his employer refused to pay, he stopped using it, according to the ruling.
The price of one ounce of cannabis ranges from $425 to $520 for an average of $489 in the Garden State, not counting the 7 percent state sales tax, according to a state Health Department analysis. At those prices, New Jersey's medical pot is the most expensive in the nation. The law does not require insurance to cover the expense.
Administrative Law Judge Ingrid L. French said based on Watson's testimony, "the effects of the marijuana, in many ways, is not as debilitating as the effects of the Percocet. The pharmacy records show that, ultimately (Watson) was able to reduce his use of oral narcotic medication."
"As a result of his improved pain management, he has achieved a greater level of functionality," according to the judge, calling "his approach to his pain management needs (is) cautious, mature and overall he is exceptionally conscientious in managing his pain."
"The evidence presented in these proceedings show that the petitioner's 'trial' use of medicinal marijuana has been successful," French wrote. "While the court is sensitive to the controversy surrounding the medicinal use of marijuana, whether or not it should be prescribed for a patient in a state where it is legal to prescribe it is a medical decision that is within the boundaries of the laws in the state."
Attorney John Carvelli of Mount Laurel who represents 84 Lumber's insurance carrier, Gallagher Bassett Services, said his client "respects the court decision." He declined to comment further.
The Dec. 15 decision was first reported by philly.com on Friday.
Watson's lawyer, Philip Faccenda of Cherry Hill, said he was "very pleased" with the ruling. He said he didn't know if Watson had resumed participating in the medicinal marijuana program. Watson could not be reached for comment.
Faccenda said was aware of only one other case in New Mexico in which a medical marijuana patient had prevailed in workers compensation dispute.
He stressed the ruling "has not broadened" New Jersey's medical marijuana law, which benefits patients with "a very limited number of conditions and injuries."
The original state law enacted in 2010 recognizes six diseases that qualify patients for medical marijuana upon their doctors' recommendation: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease; multiple sclerosis; terminal cancer; muscular dystrophy; inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's disease; and any terminal illness with a prognosis less than a year.
People with seizure disorders, including epilepsy, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, glaucoma and post traumatic stress disorder also qualify if conventional medical treatments have failed. People with HIV and AIDS and cancer qualify, too, if they suffer from severe and chronic pain, vomiting and nausea and wasting syndrome.
John Sarno, who as president and general counsel for the Employers Association of New Jersey often holds seminars on marijuana and the workplace, called the ruling "a straight-forward reading of the law."
Sarno predicted the ruling would have "minimal impact" on employers, given how few employees would be debilitated enough to qualify for both workers' compensation and the state's restrictive medical marijuana program.
"An appeal would raise complex, conflict of law issues between state and federal government, which would be extraordinarily expensive to litigate," he said.
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