A New Jersey appellate court has ruled that a former employee’s medical cannabis must be reimbursed by his former employer. Vincent Hager was an employee of M+K Construction when he suffered a job-site injury in 2001. The injury resulted in several surgeries and chronic pain. Hager was prescribed medical cannabis in 2016, which resulted in a monthly bill of $616. Medical cannabis is legal in New Jersey. In a workers’ compensation proceeding, Hager sought to be reimbursed for his monthly cannabis bill because his physician testified, he would need medical cannabis to manage his pain for the rest of his life. A workers’ compensation judge ordered M+K to reimburse Hager for the costs of his medical cannabis. M+K appealed, arguing the use of cannabis still constituted a federal crime and that reimbursement of these expenses would aid and abet Hager’s commission of a crime. The appellate court rejected this argument and held there was no evidence that merely reimbursing Hager for his medical cannabis would aid and abet in a crime or require the employer to commit a crime. This appears to be the first ruling of this kind.
New Jersey’s employment laws are somewhat unique and this case is fact-specific. Yet, the case arguably expands the rights of cannabis patients at work at least in New Jersey. Thus, employers are likely to see more examples of these situations in states where medical cannabis is legal and should be aware of the laws applicable to cannabis usage in the jurisdictions where they operate as well whether internal policies address these issues.