Medicinal Cannabis And Social Security Disability Benefits
More and more states in this country have legalized the use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive aspect of the cannabis plant, also known as marijuana, for medicinal purposes), although, pursuant to federal law, cannabis is still a Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning possession is illegal. In spite of the federal prohibition, many physicians have prescribed cannabis for the treatment of various ailments. Some of these ailments are disabling, entitling one to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. In fact, a recent study implies that state medical cannabis laws will lead to an increase in SSDI applications. Consequently, as more and more states look to permit medical cannabis, the Social Security Administration (SSA), the entity which examines SSDI claims and an agency of the federal government, will have to address the issue of medical cannabis even if, according to their laws and regulations, it is a controlled substance. A quick discussion of medical cannabis, and how SSDI applicants who are prescribed it can succeed in their applications, will follow below.
Medical Cannabis is the use of the cannabis plant (or its extracts) to treat a disease or symptom. As of this post, use of the cannabis plant (such as via ingestion or through burning) has not been approved by the FDA as a medical remedy. However, there are medications which comprise some of the chemicals found in cannabis – called cannabinoids – which have been approved. In any event, it has been claimed that cannabis, and these cannabinoids, can be used to treat the following conditions:
- Disorders which can result in seizures;
- Human immunodeficiency virus / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome;
- Crohn’s disease;
- Muscle spasms;
- Chronic malignant pain;
- Post traumatic stress disorder;
- Inflammatory bowel disease; and
Further, there are also claims that cannabis may help relieve the side effects of other, more debilitating or terminal conditions, such as cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
Cannabis and SSDI Benefits
Although specific regulations regarding how the SSA will act regarding those who file SSDI claims and use cannabis, the general rule is that the SSA can deny benefits to an applicant who abuses illegal drugs or alcohol. Of note here is that, although Florida now permits medical cannabis, the SSA is a federal agency and, as such, adheres to federal law; thus, cannabis is considered an illegal drug. Abuse of an illegal drug or alcohol is deemed when the drug or alcohol is a contributing factor to the determination of disability. In other words, if the applicant would cease to remain disabled if he/she stopped abusing the illegal drug or alcohol, then the SSA may determine the use of the illegal drug or alcohol to be abuse. Claims may also be denied if it is proven that the abuse of the illegal drug or alcohol worsened the disability.
Thus, anyone using medical cannabis considering filing a claim for SSDI benefits should speak with a Social Security disability attorney. The attorney can determine if continuing medical cannabis will most likely result in a denial of an SSDI claim, and will work with the claimant’s medical professional to ensure that the use of medical cannabis is specifically meant to benefit the disabling condition.
Obviously, just as with the overuse of alcohol, it should be noted that the use of non-medical cannabis will most likely be deemed abuse by the SSA, and cause for denial of an SSDI claim.
If you are have filed (or will shortly file) a claim for SSDI benefits, and currently use medical cannabis, or were recently been denied an SSDI claim due to your use of medical cannabis, contact the experienced disability legal team at Farrell Disability Law as soon as possible. Our experience in SSDI procedures will help give you the best chance for success. Contact our Jacksonville office today.