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Wright’s Case – Injured Worker Denied Reimbursement for Medical Marijuana

A workers’ compensation insurer was not required to pay for medical marijuana pursuant to M.G.L. c. 152 §13 and 30, which otherwise require payment for adequate and reasonable medical expenses.

The case arose from a claim by an injured worker, Daniel Wright, for reimbursement in the amount of $24,267.86, for the cost of medical marijuana vaporizing products and edibles used to treat his chronic pain condition.

An administrative judge at the Department of Industrial Accidents (Department) heard Mr. Wright’s case at hearing.  Although the judge found Mr. Wright’s claim that marijuana helped treat his pain so effectively he stopped using opioids “entirely credible”, payment for the cannabis products was nonetheless denied.

Due to the novelty of this issue, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) of Massachusetts took the case up on its own motion.  The Court, in denying payment to Wright, based its decision on the plain language of the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act (Marijuana Act), St. 2012, c. 369, which expressly states that “nothing in this law requires any health insurance provider, or any government agency or authority, to reimburse any person for the expenses of the medical use of marijuana”, St. 2012, c. 369, §7(B), even though such use is not illegal in Massachusetts.

By basing its decision on the plain language of the Marijuana Act, the Court performed a “high wire act” avoiding a direct collision with the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which criminalizes the use, procurement or distribution of marijuana.[1] To require an insurance company to pay for medical marijuana under the current state of the Federal law would be exposing it to possible criminal prosecution.  It would also likely increase the possibility that Federal regulators and enforcement officials would step into these murky waters increasing the odds of a preemption argument.

The doctrine of Federal preemption dictates that if there is a conflict between a State and Federal law, Federal law will be given precedence.  In the context of this case, this would presumably invalidate the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act.

Paradoxically, in the midst of an opioid crisis, opioids are the only option for those without resources to cover the cost of medical marijuana.

[1] Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.






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