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Seasoned Sacramento Injury Attorneys

Does Marijuana Use Affect a Workers’ Compensation Claim in California?


Workers’ compensation exists to provide employees from losing their income and facing other financial burdens as a result of an injury they sustained at work. To prevent this important system from being abused, a number of rules and regulations exist to determine which kinds of injuries quality for coverage, how long people have to file their claims, and what could disqualify someone from collecting benefits.

For many years, testing positive for drugs – including marijuana – during a post-injury drug screening would likely result in a denial of benefits. The reason often came down to the plausibility that the employee’s impairment from drug use significantly contributed to the accident.

In 2016, however, California voters approved Proposition 19 and recreational marijuana use has been legal ever since. There’s even some movement in the state to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics. As drug laws change in California people who enjoy these new liberties might be concerned about how their use could affect a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ Compensation & Impairment at Work

After an accident at work, it’s not uncommon for employers to require their employees to submit to drug tests. This is purely intended to determine if the employee is at fault for the accident because they were impaired at the time it occurred. If your employer’s insurance company can successfully argue that you were impaired when you became injured, you can be denied benefits.

Typically, a drug screen will look for anything from nicotine to alcohol, marijuana, and any other commonly prescribed drug or narcotic. If a drug test reveals the presence of any substances in the employee’s system, the employer’s insurance company will argue that their presence resulted in impairment that caused the accident.

When it’s spelled out like that, it can seem like a longshot for your employer’s insurance to prove, but it’s not. A urine test – which is the most commonly used test – can measure the concentration of drugs in your system. This information can be used to determine the concentration of any detected drugs – and how likely you were to be impaired – at the time the accident occurred.

Also, employers often have policies against drug and alcohol use at work or being impaired by the substances at work, even if you did them off-duty. If a drug test reveals any substances your employer prohibits you from using, you can be denied benefits because you broke a company policy.

The Problem with Marijuana

The problem with marijuana is that it can show up on a drug test for days or weeks after its last use. If it does, your employer and their insurance company can argue that you were stoned at work to deny workers’ compensation benefits even if you were completely sober.

It’s not impossible to defeat this kind of assertion, but it definitely puts a worrisome blockade on your access to benefits. To make matters more complicated, federal law still recognizes marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic. You may have to rely on state laws to protect your marijuana use, but so far there really aren’t any that broadly apply.


In truth, California is still trying to reckon with marijuana legalization in many respects. For the time being, there isn’t really a simple answer as to how marijuana use can affect your workers’ compensation claim.

It might be a hindrance, but only if your employer suspects that your accident was the result of your impairment and orders you to submit to a drug test. In other situations, it might not even come up.

If you are dealing with any difficulty involving your workers’ compensation claim, however, you can rely on the experienced legal counsel at Smolich and Smolich to provide the support you need.

For more information about our services, please contact us online today!