Missouri voters approved a recreational cannabis measure in 2022, joining the growing number of states with adult-use marijuana markets. However, the legalization measure did not address how employers would handle compensation for employees who sustain workplace injuries while under the influence of cannabis.
Currently, employees may have their compensation and death benefits cut by up to 50% even if they hadn’t consumed cannabis for days but still tested positive for THC. This mostly stems from the fact that existing cannabis tests aren’t accurate and cannot properly connect blood THC levels to actual intoxication. Worker compensation attorney Bradley Young says this hasn’t changed even after voters legalized recreational marijuana because cannabis is still prohibited at the federal level.
Republican Representatives Sherri Gallick and John Voss have introduced measures that would add cannabis to the state’s workers’ compensation law. Under Missouri’s workers’ current compensation law, employees whose on-the-job injuries are sustained “in conjunction with nonprescribed controlled drugs” face a 50% reduction of their benefits.
According to Young, Missouri state law currently doesn’t classify marijuana as a nonprescribed controlled drug despite its status at the federal level.
Gallick’s bill would exempt medical cannabis patients who were using cannabis with a physician’s prescription while Voss’s measure does not include similar language. Another measure introduced by Jefferson City Republican Senator Mike Bernskoetter also mirrored the language in Voss’s bill.
However, both measures have faced opposition from Democrats and Republicans on the House Insurance Policy Committee. Republican Representative Richard West noted that his biggest problem with the measure is that the technology to accurately measure marijuana impairment doesn’t exist. He noted that employees can still lose 50% of their benefits if they have some cannabis in their systems from prior use but aren’t impaired during a workplace injury under the bill.
Young argued that after serving as a workers’ compensation defense attorney for three decades, he had never seen a case where a judge cut a worker’s benefits for using cannabis weeks, or even days, after the injury.
Several lawmakers criticized existing testing methods for their inaccuracy in properly measuring cannabis impairment. Most cannabis tests will show positive results even if an individual consumed marijuana several hours or even days prior and isn’t impaired at the moment of testing.
Conversely, alcohol impairment tests are incredibly effective at measuring intoxication levels on the spot. Without accurate cannabis impairment testing technology, West wondered whether the state would have to prevent people from consuming a legal substance in their free time.
When asked when efficient cannabis-testing technology will be available, Young said he represents a company that bought technology to determine if THC is active at the moment of testing. The technology is currently expensive, but Young said it would be more affordable next year.
The discussions in Missouri show that despite the existence of regulated markets in different states and countries where companies such as Tilray Brands Inc. (NASDAQ: TLRY) (TSX: TLRY) operate, many reforms still need to be considered to end manifestations of prohibition.
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