The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is hearing oral arguments Tuesday in a case that addresses federalism in the context of medical marijuana. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Northeastern University law professor and WGBH News legal analyst Daniel Medwed about the case and how similar issues have played out in courts across the country. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: What happened in this case, Daniel? How does it tie into what we're talking about?
Daniel Medwed: Well, an electrical apprentice named Daniel Wright injured his knee on the job and he settled his worker's compensation claim — or potential claim — with his insurance company, Central Mutual. As part of this settlement, Central Mutual agreed to accept liability for ongoing treatment to Wright's knee provided that the payment of these expenses was reasonable, necessary and causally related to the injury. So Wright, among other treatment options, purchased and used medical marijuana. He then sought to get reimbursed for that cost, Central Mutual balked [and] the case went to our State Department of Industrial Accidents, where an administrative judge in 2017 denied Wright's claim.
Mathieu: What was the basis for the ruling? Did the court find medical marijuana unnecessary?
Medwed: This is where things got really interesting, at least from a legal perspective. Both parties agreed that the so-called necessity and causality provisions were met — that the medical marijuana was reasonably necessary and it directly alleviated some of Wright's symptoms. But the hang up was that marijuana, of course, remains illegal at the federal level, and Central Mutual was worried about somehow being complicit in a federal crime by aiding and abetting the possession of marijuana. The administrative judge agreed with that, as did the reviewing board of the Department of Industrial Accidents back in 2019, and that led the case to get up to the SJC.