By Steve Elliott
An injured auto mechanic who uses medical marijuana to treat pain can have his former employer and the company's insurance provider reimburse him for the cannabis, a New Mexico appeals court ruled on Monday.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals voted unanimously to uphold a previous workers compensation court decision, also in favor Gregory Vialpando, the 55-year-old former mechanic, who suffered a lower back injury back in 2000, reports Joseph J. Kolb at Reuters.
The Santa Fe man's former employer, Ben's Automotive Services, and its insurance provider, Redwood Fire & Casualty, had tried to get out of reimbursing the mechanic for using medicinal cannabis as a pain treatment, pointing to marijuana's illegal status under federal law.
New Mexico is the first state he's aware of where a workers compensation board has approved insurance reimbursement for medical marijuana, according to Albuquerque attorney Peter White, who represents Vialpando.
"It's an important decision for workers so seriously injured they would be bound to a lifetime of narcotic medications," White said.
"It might be fairly unique," said Drug Policy Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd of the ruling.
New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge James Wechsler's written opinion found the employer and its insurer had failed to cite a specific federal law they'd be forced to violate by reimbursing the man for his medical marijuana.