In an unusual twist for a state that outlaws marijuana use except in specified medical situations, the New Mexico Court of Appeals has ordered a repair shop owner and the shop's workers' compensation insurer to pay for medical marijuana use to treat an employee's work-injury-related chronic back pain.

Ben's Automotive Services and Redwood Fire & Casualty initially refused to honor the treatment when ordered by a workers' compensation judge, arguing that marijuana is illegal under federal law and thus the judge's order was "illegal and unenforceable."

Citing the cases of Washington and Colorado, two states that have legalized the possession of marijuana and its production and distribution, the appeals court held that the U.S. Department of Justice has deferred to the states on issues of marijuana use. It thus rejected the argument of the shop and insurer.

The court noted:

We also observe that New Mexico public policy is clear. Our State Legislature passed the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act 'to allow the beneficial use of medical cannabis in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.' We decline to reverse the order [of the workers' compensation judge on the basis of federal law or public policy.