Earlier this summer, Minnesota became one of the most recent states to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. So far, 22 other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana even though the drug remains illegal under federal law. Unlike most other states, Minnesota restricts use to tightly controlled marijuana-derived medicines that cannot be smoked.

Additionally, Minnesota’s medical marijuana laws only allow prescriptions for patients suffering from certain conditions. When the bill was passed, it was estimated that only about 5,000 Minnesotans would be eligible under current criteria.

So what does this all have to do with worker’s compensation in Minnesota? At the moment, the answer to that question is somewhat unclear. Some are already seeing the potential of medical marijuana as a safer alternative to the opioid painkillers often prescribed to injured workers or those who suffer from chronic pain. As most Americans know, opioids (such as OxyContin and Vicodin) can be highly addictive, and overdoses of these drugs can be fatal. Moreover, these drugs are not intended to be used long-term, which means that they are not generally a safe course of treatment for back injuries and other conditions that result in chronic pain.

According to a recent article on the Business Insurance website, The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry recently “adopted a rule establishing criteria for long-term opioid treatment.” In that rule, the DLI noted that under state law, medical marijuana is not considered an “illegal substance” for treating injured workers.

Practically speaking, the DLI’s newly issued rule does not change the status of medical marijuana in Minnesota – at least not yet. As we noted above, use of the drug is tightly controlled. And currently, work-related injuries typically do not qualify someone for a prescription. However, if and when Minnesota’s medical marijuana regulations become less restrictive, the drug (or derivative products) could become a relatively safe alternative for pain management of certain work-related injuries.

Source: Business Insurance, “Medical marijuana a growing workers comp challenge,” Stephanie Goldberg, July 9, 2015