The short answer is yes, it could. In 1998 Washington State decriminalized the use of medical marijuana. In November 2012, Washington State passed I-502 legalizing small amounts of marijuana related products for most adults. I recommend that clients abstain from marijuana use unless they have been prescribed marijuana by their regular treating doctor for a qualifying medical condition. Here are some factors to consider:
1. Did your treating doctor prescribe the medical marijuana? A Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will be more likely to understand that you need medical marijuana if a doctor who is familiar with all of your problems has prescribed medical marijuana. If you go to a clinic that provides medical cannabis evaluations, they are not likely to have read your entire set of medical records and typically rely on what you tell them. A treating doctor, by contrast, has seen you multiple times and has reviewed your medical records to see if marijuana use is medically appropriate.
2. Do all of your treatment providers know about your medical marijuana use? Tell all of your doctors, treatment providers and evaluators about the frequency and amount of your medical marijuana use. If you are not forthcoming with your doctors about using medical marijuana, the ALJ may discount your doctors’ opinions because they did not have all of the facts.
3. Are you using medical marijuana for treatment of a “qualifying condition?” The medical marijuana law has a list of qualifying conditions. This list includes: cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or other seizure disorder, chronic pain that is unrelieved by standard medical treatments, acute or chronic glaucoma, crohn’s disease, and hepatitis C with debilitating nausea and pain.
Typically, I advise my clients to not use medical marijuana if the basis for their disability is a mental health problem. This is legal advice, not medical advice. As I explained in an earlier post, if the ALJ finds that substance use is material to your disability they can deny your claim. It is sometimes very difficult to separate the effects of substance use from mental health problems. For example, lack of motivation is a hallmark of depression and is widely believed to be a side effect of marijuana use. An ALJ may find that you are disabled from the marijuana use and not the depression – this would result in the ALJ denying your claim for benefits. Further, the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission has not included bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety in the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana. They cite “a lack of scientific evidence” supporting improved health outcomes for people with these mental health impairments.
5. Are you prepared to answer uncomfortable questions about your marijuana use? For example, how do you get the marijuana? If a friend brings it to you, what is the name of that person? How do you pay for the marijuana? How do you use the marijuana? Do you smoke it? Eat it? How much do you use? Often judges are asking these questions to see if you are telling them the truth about your marijuana use.
Even if you answered yes to all of the above questions, talk to your Social Security disability lawyer about medical marijuna before using it.