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NM court: Employer, insurer must pay for medical pot

SANTA FEpotpay — A New Mexico business and its insurer must pay for medical marijuana for a worker who suffered a job-related back injury, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.

Peter D. White, a lawyer for the worker, said Tuesday it was the first time an appellate court in New Mexico had decided that marijuana is a medical expense covered under the state’s workers’ compensation system.

The court on Monday upheld a decision by a workers’ compensation judge that required an automotive repair shop in Santa Fe and its insurance company to reimburse Gregory Vialpando for the costs of marijuana to treat his chronic back pain.

White said his client, who lives in Santa Fe, is no longer able to work because of the injury that happened in 2000. Vialpando has a 99 percent permanent partial disability, according to the court. He applied last year for approval of medical marijuana treatment under workers’ compensation. Two doctors had certified Vialpando for the state’s medical marijuana program.

The judge determined medical marijuana was “reasonable and necessary medical care” under terms of New Mexico’s workers’ compensation law, which provides for medical expenses and back wages for workers injured or disabled on the job. State law requires employers to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage.

The employer, Ben’s Automotive Services, and its insurer appealed after being ordered to reimburse Vialpando for medical marijuana expenses.

The court rejected the employer’s argument it would be required to violate federal law by paying for the marijuana.

New Mexico started its medical marijuana program began in 2007, although pot remains illegal under federal law.

The employer’s lawyer, Lisa Mack, was unavailable Tuesday, according to her law office. Mack did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on whether the ruling might be appealed to the state Supreme Court.