Question of the Month: Does Marijuana Use Affect My Disability Benefits Claim?

February 2, 2024

Attitudes toward the use of marijuana have changed radically since 1996, when California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis.

Today medical marijuana is legal in 38 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia. The recreational use of marijuana has been decriminalized in 25 states, including Illinois.

Cannabis is now one of the most widely used drugs in the U.S.—nearly 20 million Americans reported using marijuana at least once in the last month, according to one study.

Some people who have disabilities say marijuana eases their chronic pain or lessens their anxiety. Of course, others use it just for recreational purposes.

But if you are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, it’s important for you to remember that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and since the Social Security Administration is a federal agency, any use of marijuana could negatively impact your disability claim.

Even though it is legal in Illinois, the use of marijuana may give pause to an administrative law judge (ALJ) who considers your case in a disability appeal hearing.

If you are a disability claimant and you’re asked by the ALJ during your hearing about your use of marijuana, we advise you to be honest—lying about anything during your appeal hearing is illegal and never a good strategy.

However, how you answer the question can make a difference in the outcome of your case.

Nash Disability Law Attorney Kevin Lichtenthal observes that, “It is very common for clients, when initially asked about marijuana, to state, ‘Well, I am in Illinois and it is legal, so I am allowed to do it.’ A better strategy is to explain how the use of marijuana alleviates your symptoms. For example, ‘Your Honor, I do take edibles or smoke marijuana to alleviate my pain and ease my anxiety.’”

In addition, you may be able to neutralize negatives to your chances at getting disability benefits if you can provide proof that your use of marijuana was approved by your healthcare provider.

At Nash Disability Law, one of our skilled disability hearing lawyers will meet with you by phone or in person in advance of your hearing to discuss and prepare.

For more tips on how to improve your chances for a favorable disability hearing outcome, read our blog post: Avoiding Social Security Hearing “Gotchas”