Medical Or Recreational Marijuana And Social Security Disability Benefits

With many states now approving either recreational and medical marijuana use or medical marijuana alone, there's a lot of confusion about how marijuana use can affect your Social Security disability application. Here's some information that you need to know about how state laws on marijuana use can intersect with a federal program like SSA disability.

1. The medical use of marijuana is less likely to affect your disability claim than any recreational use. If you are in a state that allows legal recreational marijuana use, you may want to consider abstaining during this time period in your life. Social Security always asks a critical question about any mind-altering substance, even alcohol, regularly used by disability claimants: Would the disabling condition improve if the use of the drug stopped? 

If the answer is either "yes" or "maybe," your claim will get denied. SSA cannot approve an application for disability benefits where the voluntary consumption of alcohol or drugs is a material contributing factor to that person's disabling condition. 

2. If you are using legal recreational marijuana to self-medicate for a condition like anxiety or stress, consider reaching out to a doctor that will provide you with the necessary paperwork to get medical marijuana instead. It's more work, for probably the same results that you are having now, but it can help you overcome the hurdle about whether or not your disability or the marijuana use came first. 

Think of it this way: Social Security simply wants to know if the drug is causing you to be more disabled or less disabled. If it is genuinely what helps you to function even to a marginal degree, get a doctor's recommendation or medical marijuana card (whichever your state uses) so that you can prove that you have the diagnosis that supports the drug use—rather than a drug habit that's causing a disability.

3. If your use of medical marijuana improves your condition to the point where you are capable of functioning and holding a job, you won't qualify for disability benefits. This may almost seem like an unfair trap since marijuana use is still prohibited, legally, under federal law and Social Security is a federal program, but if you are taking the drug as a medication and it makes it possible for you to function in a substantial way, then you don't qualify for disability benefits.

In order to qualify for SSA disability benefits, you have to be so disabled that you are unable to work or perform any substantial gainful activity, even with medication. There are, for example, many working people who suffer from arthritis, diabetes, angina, and other disorders for which they take medication. They don't qualify for benefits either because their medication controls the symptoms of their disease. 

Getting approved for SSA disability benefits while using legal marijuana for medical or recreational purposes is not impossible, but it could make your case more difficult. You may want to discuss the situation in detail with a social security disability attorney before you file.