Chief Workers Compensation Expert Talks Medical Marijuana

Chief Workers Compensation Expert

By Angela Underwood

One of the top workers compensation experts says there no justification for marijuana being a Schedule 1 drug in his personal opinion.

The New York Daily Weed Report sought out Mark Pew, a.k.a RX Professor, to find out exactly how the industry has dealt with the rise of medical marijuana. 

“Yes, it can be abused, and yes it can be potentially addictive, but so can gambling, so can sex, and so can work,” Pew said.

As the senior vice president of product development and marketing for Preferred Medical, Pew, winner of the 2016 WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award who was awarded best industry blogger by WorkersCompensation.com from 2016-18, said the other key component of Schedule 1 is that there is “no medicinal value for it.” In his personal opinion, it is impossible for objective minds, specifically within the government, to say there is zero curing value in marijuana.

“This is where state’s rights are very interesting because they have said if the feds aren’t going to do it, we are,” Pew said. “I think it is the tail wagging the dog at this point, and eventually the feds are going to have to come along.”

Why? According to Pew, society has figured out over time that the overuse of opioids is dangerous, if not deadly.

“That is in both general healthcare in society as a whole, and especially in workers compensation,” he said.

The rise and slow decline of the opioid epidemic corresponds to the ascent and popularity of marijuana, according to Pew, who starting in 2003 was very much engaged in dealing with the overprescribing of opioids.

“Look at CDC statistics and you can see opioid overprescribing really peaked in 2012, and in workers compensation in 2014, but then there is this trajectory down that came around the same time an upward trajectory in states proposing medical cannabis programs,” he said.

Pew said the issue became particularly emotional when Charlotte Figi, who suffered from adolescent seizures in 2013, found relief from medical marijuana. However, it was a 2014 New Mexico court decision that really changed the game in workers compensation, when Greg Vialpando proved that his medical marijuana should in fact be reimbursed because it was “reasonable and necessary,” for his ongoing chronic pain.

“That is a key phrase in workers compensation regulations to validate whether a payer is responsible for payment,” he said. “He became the poster child for weaning off of opioids and other pain killers and using medical marijuana instead.”

After the case, the work comp industry began to open its eyes, with a variety of payers beginning to reimburse for medical marijuana. And not just because the judge said so. 

“I have heard of a lot of payers voluntarily doing it,” he said.

But reasonable and necessary is both subjective and objective, according to Pew.

“Reasonable and necessary is in the opinion of someone where treatment benefits outweigh the risks, the side effects are manageable, and it is better than the alternative,” he said.

In the meantime, some doctors do not believe that marijuana is medicine while other physicians personally claim the benefits of the plant, Pew added.

“They have all had personal experiences,” he said. “Some of them have used medical marijuana themselves or seen friends, family, and coworkers use medical marijuana so all these personal opinions form.”

But between those for and against is the largest opinion, according to Pew.

“The middle part of the bell curve, the 60-70% are malleable, they can go either way,” he said.

The last few years have created a perfect storm of overprescribing of opioids, and the public acceptance of medical marijuana, Pew said. 

While research continues and millions of workers compensation dollars and benefits pay out, Pew forecasts the perfect storm will only get stronger.

“It’s been an interesting ride for sure, but I see the trajectory of opioids down and trajectory of medical marijuana up continuing,” he said.