Recreational cannabis use has been legal in Colorado since 2012, but some individuals who are choosing to avail themselves of this new freedom have been unwittingly putting their families at risk. An autopsy found that Lee had high levels of THC in his system at the time of his death, and state officials used this fact to deny his widow Erika and their children half of the standard workers’ compensation benefits.
Even though cannabis use is completely legal for adults in the state, state law allows workers’ compensation groups to cut benefits by 50% if blood tests return positive for cannabis or other drugs. “We don’t know if we will get any money, so I’m just looking now at how to survive.” Lee told reporters that she was “Frustrated with the system that is saying because he smoked a legal substance, we are going to take away your benefits from you and your kids.”
If a worker was injured or killed while intoxicated by another drug, like alcohol or opioids, the situation would be more cut and dry. An autopsy can reveal with great certainty whether an individual was intoxicated by most drugs at the time of their death, but the same certainty cannot be determined for cannabis. Marijuana can remain in the system for weeks after use, and the fact that Lee had high levels of THC in his system does not conclusively indicate that he was stoned at the time of his death. “We voters spoke loudly and said marijuana should not be illegal for adults. Yet we still have some parts of the Colorado revised statutes that appear to penalize people who are using this substance.”
Colorado is not the only place to see insurance companies using marijuana as an excuse to refuse customers or deny payments.
Cannabis is still entirely prohibited by U.S. federal law, and major insurance companies are choosing to follow the lead of the financial industry and stay clear of the cannabis industry altogether.