N.J. High Court Rules on Employer Obligations Under Point out Medical Marijuana Act | Holland & Knight LLP

Businesses in staff-helpful New Jersey have lengthy been faced with a alternative between compliance with permissive state marijuana restrictions or with stricter federal mandates. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, in Hager v. M&K Construction, 2021 WL 1380984 (N.J. April 13, 2021), has lately clarified that the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act (Honig Act) is not preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), additional narrowing the discretion of New Jersey companies to interpret how to comply with conflicting condition and federal regulations.

On April 13, 2021, the state’s high court docket requested M&K Development to reimburse employee Vincent Hager for ongoing expenses of medical cannabis immediately after he sustained a function-relevant again harm during his employment with M&K in 2001. Specially, Mr. Hager alleged that he started taking medical cannabis to handle his again soreness in 2016 as a strategy of weaning off of opioids, which he experienced earlier utilised to address the pain.

Mainly because his medical cannabis prescription was pricey – far more than $600 every month – Mr. Hager sought reimbursement from M&K. Even so, M&K argued that it was not accountable for this kind of expenditures under the Honig Act simply because: 1) the Act conflicts with, and is thus preempted by, the CSA, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug and makes it a federal crime to “aid or abet” in the commission of, or have interaction in a conspiracy to dedicate, a federal criminal offense and 2) it falls in just the Honig Act’s confined reimbursement exception for govt medical aid systems or personal health insurers. M&K also argued that it was not expected to reimburse Mr. Hager beneath New Jersey’s Workers’ Payment Law (WCL) simply because medical marijuana is not a “realistic” or “important” treatment.

The court docket denied M&K’s claims and held that M&K was expected to reimburse prices fairly related to Mr. Hager’s prescription for medical marijuana. Initial, the court docket analyzed regardless of whether the CSA, which prohibits almost all works by using of medical and grownup-use cannabis, preempts the Honig Act, which below the WCL makes it possible for for cannabis as a reasonable and vital medical treatment with less severe aspect effects than opioids for long-term agony. In its assessment, the court famous that Congress has deprioritized prosecution for the possession of medical cannabis and for marijuana use that is lawful below condition legislation. In a rider to the U.S. Legislature’s most modern federal Appropriations Act, the U.S. Division of Justice is now prohibited from working with resources to reduce states from applying medical marijuana legal guidelines. The court claimed that Congress’ legislative intent was to allow states to utilize the provisions of legal guidelines this sort of as the Honig Act. It took the watch that defunding prosecution of felony statutes was tantamount to a short term suspension of the before statute:

“We as a result conclude that the CSA, as used to the Compassionate Use Act and the Purchase at situation, is correctly suspended by the most latest appropriations rider for at the very least the length of the federal fiscal calendar year and that it would be inappropriate for this Court to give any authorized impact whatsoever to the before statutory enactment. The earlier statute simply cannot coexist with the enacted appropriation and, therefore, will have to be considered to be suspended by adoption of the later on appropriation act.”

For that reason, the court docket decided that no conflict exists demanding preemption among the Honig Act and the CSA.

Court: Aiding and Abetting Not a Problem

The court deemed no matter whether M&K’s concern of “aiding and abetting” a CSA violation was enough rationale to excuse compliance with the Honig Act. The court noted that “[t]o support and abet a crime, a defendant will have to not just ‘in some form affiliate himself with the venture,’ but also ‘participate in it as in a little something that he wishes to bring about’ and ‘seek by his motion to make it thrive.'” To support an aiding-and-abetting conviction in the U.S. Courtroom of Appeals for the Third Circuit, “the Governing administration have to confirm: ‘1) that another dedicated a substantive offense and 2) the a single charged with aiding and abetting realized of the fee of the substantive offense and acted to aid it.'” To sustain a conviction underneath aider and abettor legal responsibility, the govt will have to show that the accomplice “knowingly elected to aid in the fee of the offense.” The court turned down M&K’s aiding and abetting arguments, concluding that compliance with court docket-mandated reimbursement payments “can barely be interpreted as M&K electing to support in Hager’s possession of cannabis, contrary to federal law. Alternatively, it is being compelled to do so by the [court’s] get.”

The courtroom also famous that M&K can barely be considered to have “aided and abetted” Mr. Hager’s use of medical cannabis, or engaged in a conspiracy with him, simply because it will be reimbursing the cost of his medical cannabis only pursuant to court buy.

The court determined that M&K properly pointed out that the Honig Act involves a reimbursement exemption for authorities medical help programs or non-public health insurers, but the court held that these exemption does not implement to Mr. Hager’s declare mainly because workers’ payment claims are not detailed explicitly as an exception. The court engaged in an examination of the plain text of the Honig Act and of New Jersey’s Lifestyle and Health Insurance Code to establish that only federal government medical aid systems or private health insurers – not worker’s payment insurers – are covered by the exemption.

Concerning the WCL, employers should present “these types of medical, surgical and other treatment … as shall be vital to treatment and minimize the worker of the consequences of the harm,” and the “treatment shall be realistic.” The courtroom analyzed the legislative record of the WCL and connected situation law, deciding that palliative treatment falls inside of its scope and treatment that lowers indications of pain is “realistic” and “vital.”

Mainly because Mr. Hager testified that his chronic discomfort was relieved by medical cannabis, and due to the fact these testimony is supported by medical literature, the court docket denied M&K’s argument that it is exempted from payment below the WCL.

Takeaways for Companies

The Supreme Court of New Jersey’s decision in Hager v. M&K Construction will make it more hard for employers in New Jersey to avoid reimbursing potential workers’ payment promises involving treatment with medical cannabis. Businesses, specially these in closely controlled industries, should really take into account potential implications outside the house of federal enforcement of the CSA, together with enforcement from regulators.