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Recreational pot is legal but could still affect workers' comp

Regardless of where you stand on marijuana legalization issues, there are many reasons to be glad that recreational marijuana is now legal here in Massachusetts. For one, the new laws protect otherwise law-abiding people from getting arrested on pot charges. However, that does not mean that all residents are free to light up without consequences.

For instance, your recreational marijuana usage could affect the viability of your workers' comp claim if you suffered a workplace injury here in Boston or elsewhere in the state. It's likely that you won't think that is very fair if you weren't getting high on the job.

It stays in your system

Unlike harder drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, which can be completely out of the body within 72 hours, traces of marijuana use can remain detectable for weeks after the user smoked or ingested the active ingredient.

Therefore, it's possible that a Boston worker took a few hits at home in the evening after work one night could test positive for THC two weeks later after slicing his thumb open with a skill saw. The pot neither caused nor contributed to the accident. However, it could still be used as evidence for the company to deny workers' compensation benefits for him.

Pot is not completely legal

Marijuana users should remember that on the federal level, pot is still classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a Schedule I drug -- along with heroin and LSD -- with no acceptable medical uses and high risk of abuse. That alone is enough to throw a wrench in a workers' comp claim for an injured employee.

Workplaces also have the right to set their own standards of employment. That can and often does include a zero tolerance for drug use by the company's workers. As the drug laws continue to evolve on the state level, it is very likely that marijuana use by workers will continue to be the focus of many courtroom battles.

Level with your attorney

If you retained a worker's comp attorney to pursue a claim for benefits, let them know immediately if marijuana may show up in lab tests that were run after your workplace injury. There may be ways to mitigate some of the damage caused by positive drug tests.

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