Many people use marijuana for medicinal purposes. In Arizona, it is legal to do so if you get your certification from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Does that mean that Social Security will acknowledge your right to use marijuana to relieve pain or help you sleep or deal with nausea? Not necessarily.
There are a few things to consider. One is that while medical marijuana is legal in Arizona, it is still illegal under Federal law. Social Security is a Federal program. Simply put, this means that Social Security is within their rights to refuse to recognize your medical marijuana use as legal. So far, Social Security has not taken a formal position on how they view medical marijuana. Generally speaking, Social Security applies the law of the state you are in. But, they don't have to where, as here, there is a conflict as to what is legal.
Regardless of how Social Security ultimately resolves this conflict in the law, they are going to consider your marijuana use as part of your disability application. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to address in detail how Social Security deals with drug and alcohol use. (Want to read the regulations yourself? Click here.) The short answer is that Social Security will try to determine if your marijuana use contributes to your disability. A short-cut take on this is to ask: would I still be disabled if I stopped using marijuana? You can see how quickly this is going to get complicated if you are alleging such mental impairments as depression. A broken leg is a broken leg, marijuana or not. But how do you separate depression or anxiety from the affects of marijuana? For more on schizophrenia and marijuana, check out a blog post I wrote on the subject.
Keep in mind that a lot of Social Security judges do not take all the required steps for determining the materiality of marijuana use. Rather, they simply take marijuana use as an indication that the claimant is not credible. This is not fair, but it happens. A judge can take your marijuana use as a sign you are not trustworthy and then dismiss everything else you told the judge. When that happens, there is essentially no way to win your case.
For now, the best approach is not to use marijuana at all. If you need it for medical reasons, get your card from the State. Tell your doctors you are using it and for what specific reasons. See if your doctor will endorse your use. Be prepared to tell a judge that you are using marijuana, how often you use it, for what reason you use it, and where you get the money for it (remember, you are supposedly not working and thus have no income.)
If medical marijuana is in the picture, you are more likely to need an experienced lawyer to help you win your case. Feel free to call or email to discuss this with me.