The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is hearing oral arguments Tuesday in a case that addresses federalism in the context of medical marijuana. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Northeastern University law professor and WGBH News legal analyst Daniel Medwed about the case and how similar issues have played out in courts across the country. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: What happened in this case, Daniel? How does it tie into what we're talking about?

Daniel Medwed: Well, an electrical apprentice named Daniel Wright injured his knee on the job and he settled his worker's compensation claim — or potential claim — with his insurance company, Central Mutual. As part of this settlement, Central Mutual agreed to accept liability for ongoing treatment to Wright's knee provided that the payment of these expenses was reasonable, necessary and causally related to the injury. So Wright, among other treatment options, purchased and used medical marijuana. He then sought to get reimbursed for that cost, Central Mutual balked [and] the case went to our State Department of Industrial Accidents, where an administrative judge in 2017 denied Wright's claim.

Mathieu: What was the basis for the ruling? Did the court find medical marijuana unnecessary?

Medwed: This is where things got really interesting, at least from a legal perspective. Both parties agreed that the so-called necessity and causality provisions were met — that the medical marijuana was reasonably necessary and it directly alleviated some of Wright's symptoms. But the hang up was that marijuana, of course, remains illegal at the federal level, and Central Mutual was worried about somehow being complicit in a federal crime by aiding and abetting the possession of marijuana. The administrative judge agreed with that, as did the reviewing board of the Department of Industrial Accidents back in 2019, and that led the case to get up to the SJC.

Mathieu: So what are the main legal arguments here for each side before the court today, Daniel?

Medwed: Well, the insurance company is arguing that the court shouldn't essentially force it into a Catch 22: either reimburse Wright and face the potential risk of federal exposure to prosecution; or withhold payment to Wright and face the prospect of state court civil litigation, which is exactly what happened here. In contrast, Wright contends that the risk of federal prosecution here is so unlikely [and] so remote that the insurance companies should simply abide by its state obligations and pay up. At its core this case, as you noted at the top, is really about federalism and the extent to which an insurance company should comply with state obligations, even at the risk of potentially triggering federal liability.

Mathieu: Should we assume there's precedent for this?

Medwed: This is also an interesting part of it. There is a lot of precedent outside of Massachusetts. So on the one hand, there's case law from the Maine Supreme Court siding with the insurance company's view that an insurance company shouldn't be forced [or] pressured to reimburse somebody for medical marijuana unless and until marijuana becomes legal at the federal level. On the other hand, a number of courts, including the appellate division in New Jersey, have come out the opposite way, basically focusing on the likelihood of the threat and requiring that there must be a current credible threat of federal prosecution, or at least enough evidence to prove a case of federal criminality beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mathieu: We don't have much time here, Daniel, but I have to ask you if you have your crystal ball handy here. Do you have thoughts on how the court might rule?

Medwed: Gosh, I left it at the office, Joe, during social distancing! But I'll try to bust it out. I think the SJC will probably go in the New Jersey direction and reinforce the primacy and importance of medical marijuana in our commonwealth.