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Medical Marijuana and Disability Benefits

A working paper by researchers from Temple University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cincinnati has found an unusual connection between disability claims and states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The study found that Social Security Disability Insurance claims rose 9.9 percent after a medical cannabis law went into effect, and the actual amount of disability benefits paid out increased 2.6 percent.

Curiously, the increase in claims was driven by workers ages 23-40, who were 24 percent more likely to file disability claims in these states.

Currently, 29 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have some type of medical marijuana law on the books.

Despite their findings, researchers were unable to determine why disability claims increase in states with medical marijuana laws, or if there is any connection at all.

While public approval of cannabis use for medical purposes has gained more acceptance in recent years, even leading to full legalization in eight states, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, which can complicate Social Security disability cases.

The Social Security Administration will deny disability applications if it is determined that drugs or alcohol are a “contributing factor material to the determination of disability.”

This is less of a factor in cases where an individual is applying for benefits due to a physical condition, such as degenerative disc disease or osteoarthritis.

However, in cases where an individual is seeking benefits for a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, marijuana use can make a case quite a bit more difficult, even if it’s been prescribed by a doctor.

In that case, it’s the applicant’s burden to show that the condition has persisted and is not caused by the abuse of drugs or alcohol. Given the complexity of disability cases involving medical marijuana, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced disability attorney if you’re planning to pursue such an application.

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