The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently weighed in on a medical cannabis case that could ultimately wind up at the Supreme Court. In doing so, DOJ lawyers recommended that the nation’s highest court not take up the case in its next session. Though this may seem like run-of-the-mill legal posturing, it is actually quite important. The DOJ’s involvement matters.
In short, DOJ lawyers are urging the court to reject the case based on what appear to be Congressional efforts to address such controversies through legislation. They argue that Congress is on the way to decriminalizing cannabis anyway, so taking up the case would be a moot point.
We will wait to see whether the justices agree or not. There is a good chance that they will take the case. And should they decide not to, there is an equally good chance they will reject it on grounds other than the DOJ’s recommendation.
Cannabis and Worker’s Compensation
The case now waiting for Supreme Court acceptance arises out of two separate cases in Minnesota. In both of those cases, employees were denied worker’s compensation payments to cover medical cannabis purchases after being injured at work. Lower courts found that federal law supersedes state law, thereby giving employers the legal right to refuse to pay for medical cannabis.
Defense lawyers in both cases argued that federal law doesn’t apply because the employers were not asked to furnish the cannabis themselves. They were simply being asked to pay for medical treatment already approved by the state. The lower courts ultimately agreed with the defendants. Both cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court.
Why It Matters
As to why it matters, there are two things to consider. First and foremost is the fact that Congress has not decriminalized cannabis. Until it has, we cannot simply allow cases to exist in some sort of legal limbo. Congress could get something done in 2022. It is also possible that they won’t. It’s conceivable that a decimalization bill will not be passed for several years to come. What are plaintiffs to do between now and then?
It also matters due to the simple fact that no one really knows what Congress will eventually settle on. There is very good reason to believe that any decriminalization bill would need to preserve state sovereignty in order to get enough support in the Senate.
State sovereignty would allow states to regulate cannabis in the same way they do alcohol. Federal regulation would only apply when interstate transactions are involved. Assuming state sovereignty is preserved with decriminalization, there are likely some states that would still restrict recreational use and, to some degree, medical use.
Utah is one such state. There, cannabis can only be used in conjunction with a valid state medical cannabis card. All cannabis purchased and used in Utah must come from a licensed pharmacy, like Salt Lake City’s Beehive Farmacy. Would a federal decriminalization bill allow Utah to continue restricting cannabis? It is possible.
State Workers’ Compensation
The idea of state sovereignty also extends to worker’s compensation insurance. Worker’s compensation is regulated and administered at the state level as well. Federal law forcing states to compel their employers to provide coverage for medical cannabis takes control of worker’s compensation away from the state and gives it to Washington.
In a nutshell, it seems as though the Supreme Court will have to rule on this one way or another. Delaying isn’t in the best interests of the parties involved, regardless of what Congress may or may not do. Here’s hoping the court takes the case.