A lawsuit that was filed earlier this year by medical cannabis patients and a cannabis production company has now been moved to federal court. This class action lawsuit seeks to challenge health insurance companies after they have refused to cover costs of medical cannabis.
The group of six medical cannabis patients in New Mexico and Ultra Health, a cannabis producer, asked in June that a state district court judge order health insurance companies in New Mexico for coverage of medical cannabis for its members. They brought this lawsuit after the enactment of a state law that requires insurance providers to cover behavioral health services, stating that this should include medical cannabis.
These seven providers refiled in federal court after being advised by their lawyers and arguing it would be the appropriate venue when the plaintiffs’ claims are tied to federal law. This is due to the fact that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act sets the standards for many of these plans, so it preempts plaintiffs’ claims. They also say that this move is justified since this lawsuit raises disputed and substantial federal law issues. The main issue it raises is whether a state is allowed to mandate coverage of a substance that’s illegal under federal law.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham praised the bill that led to the state law which prohibits cost-sharing when it comes to behavioral health services. She said, “We can make a real, meaningful difference by reducing the costs for those with insurance who seek help by eliminating the co-pays for behavioral health services”. Even with this support from the official, the state agency for regulating insurance maintains that it doesn’t have the authority to make providers cover cannabis.
New Mexican State senator and attorney Jacob Candelaria is one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. He’s been open about cannabis use and that he’s been a medical cannabis patient for years. Senator Candelaria has litigated worker’s compensation cases in the past. He believes that this move is being used as a stalling tactic and that the matter eventually will be heard in a state court to determine New Mexico’s policy in regard to Senate Bill 317.