I.I.I.: Conflicting Marijuana Laws Leading to ‘Haze of Confusion’

Workers Compensation Insurers Are Tracking Closely the State-Level Debates


For immediate release New York Press Office: 212-346-5500; media@iii.org

NEW YORK, June 25, 2019—The growing state-level acceptance of medical and recreational marijuana poses a dilemma for the U.S.’s workers compensation insurers as the federal government still considers the drug a controlled substance, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

Federal law does not permit any marijuana use, medical or otherwise. But some states may permit or require reimbursement for medical marijuana expenses under their workers compensation laws, whereas other states prohibit outright such reimbursement. These conflicts between the various state laws and federal laws impact how, and whether, workers compensation insurers can reimburse injured workers for medical marijuana.

To educate insurers and the public on these issues, the I.I.I. today released a 15-page white paper, Haze of Confusion: How Employers and Insurers Are Affected by a Patchwork of State Marijuana Laws.

The paper examines these key questions:

  • How does marijuana intoxication work, and how might it impact workplace safety?
  • How should employers treat employees who use marijuana while off-duty?
  • Does workers compensation insurance provide benefits to employees who are injured while on-duty and subsequently test positive for marijuana?

“THC persistence makes it difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether a worker with a positive test was intoxicated at the time of an accident,” stated James Lynch, Senior Vice President, Research and Education, and the Chief Actuary at the I.I.I. He is one of the white paper’s co-authors. THC is the intoxicant found in marijuana and THC can stay in a marijuana user’s blood stream long after they used the drug, unlike alcohol.

“There is some evidence that workers who test positive for marijuana are more likely to be involved in a workplace accident,” Lynch added, citing the federal government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) website. Moreover, a 2018 study found evidence that marijuana use among Colorado workers in safety-sensitive industries, such as construction and farming, is higher than among the general population. 

Yet there are other studies which have arrived at a different conclusion, the I.I.I.’s white paper notes, often finding there are not enough data to conclude legal marijuana is leading to more dangerous workplaces.

“Few simple answers to these complicated questions are forthcoming,” said Lucian McMahon, Senior Research Specialist, I.I.I., and the white paper’s other co-author. “Much depends on the decisions various states, courts, and regulators make. Employers and insurers will continue to grapple with a rapidly changing environment, perhaps for years to come.”

Workers compensation insurance pays for the medical care and physical rehabilitation of injured workers and helps to replace lost wages while they are unable to work. State laws, which vary significantly, govern the amount of benefits paid to injured workers, how their medical care will be delivered, and how these services will be paid for. However, these laws are less clear when it comes to medical marijuana benefits.

The I.I.I.’s white paper offers a detailed, state-by-state analysis of the laws governing the use of medical and recreational marijuana.

The I.I.I. has a full library of educational videos on its YouTube Channel. Information about I.I.I. mobile apps can be found here.


Insurance Information Institute, 110 William Street, New York, NY 10038; (212) 346-5500; www.iii.org

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