Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana and Social Security Disability Claims
Yes, it can. In April, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed SB3, now Act 16 of 2016, authorizing a medical marijuana program in the state. However, as of this writing (July 2016), its use by adults is not yet permitted. It will take approximately two years for the program to be running and fully functional.
When it comes to the use of controlled substances, Social Security will make a determination as to whether the use of these substances is a contributing factor to the disability. In the case of claimants with mental disabilities, this is sometimes difficult to determine. Although medical marijuana is often utilized as a treatment for some mental health diagnoses including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, many Social Security judges believe that the use of marijuana contributes to psychological impairment. Claimants cannot be assured that Social Security Administration personnel are fully aware of the beneficial effects of medical marijuana for some patients.
Until Act 16 is fully implemented and Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is operational, many factors may be taken into account by Social Security’s evaluators and judges. If your treating doctor recommends its use and the records indicate that its use is beneficial to you this could assist in demonstrating that it is not a contributing factor to your disability.
Likewise, it may be helpful if you can show that you are utilizing medical marijuana for what would be a qualifying condition under the Act. Act 16 enumerates 17 conditions for which medical marijuana will the authorized as a treatment upon recommendation by your doctor if your doctor takes the required training course. Those conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, neuropathies, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with intractable spasticity, inflammatory bowel disease, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, Post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, glaucoma, sickle cell anemia, severe chronic or intractable pain for which conventional therapies and opiate therapy has failed, and autism.
Nevertheless, you may need to be prepared to answer some uncomfortable questions. For instance, a judge may ask you how and from whom you obtain the marijuana. Do you smoke the marijuana or take it in another form? Act 16 does not authorize smoking of marijuana, and therefore a judge may look more skeptically on its use in that manner. A judge will also want to know, if your income is limited, how you pay for the marijuana. In order to ensure that your case is as strong as possible, it is highly recommended that you speak with an experienced Central Pennsylvania Social Security Disability Attorney about how your marijuana use can affect your Social Security Disability claim and how to best prepare for questions that may arise.