For life insurers, cannabis is no longer as "high-risk" as tobacco

Companies are updating their underwriting protocols to better adjust to legalization

For life insurers, cannabis is no longer as "high-risk" as tobacco

Insurance News

By Lyle Adriano

Anticipating the legalization of cannabis later this year, some of the country’s major life insurance companies are updating their policies to better serve customers.

Recreational use of cannabis is set to be legalized on October 17; and the announcement has sent the non-life insurance industry scrambling to ensure that the emerging marketplace has proper coverage.

Now, even life insurers are rushing to adapt to mainstream marijuana acceptance. Little by little, the big insurers have followed suit and updated their underwriting protocols to move marijuana use out from the high-risk category of activities – which includes things such as smoking tobacco – and into a category where premiums are not significantly affected.

“They saw the writing on the wall in terms of legislation,” insurance broker Lorne Marr told CBC News in an interview about the state of the life insurance industry following the legalization plan.

Marr had recently surveyed nearly every life insurance provider in Canada and found that most of them have a marijuana-friendly policy similar to the one Sun Life had originally implemented in 2016.

“A lot of the guidelines are still a little bit ambiguous,” Marr explained. “But it’s a big change from five or 10 years ago because everybody was getting smoker rates, which is a huge difference in the premiums.”

A basic term life insurance policy for a healthy man in his late 30s would cost about $40 to $50 a month; if he’s a smoker, however, that cost will more than double.

Marr remarked that while life insurers will take a more relaxed stance on marijuana users, the companies will still carefully assess consumers’ drug use. Activities such as using cannabis while driving will still be considered high-risk, for instance.

Life insurers might also monitor drug use while considering other related risk factors.

“Someone who has a combination of marijuana use and depression – that’s going to raise a lot of red flags,” Marr noted.

The industry’s sudden change of opinion on cannabis users could also be for competitive reasons, independent insurance broker Jeff Simmons suggested.

“These companies are in the business of acquiring clients,” Simmons said. “You’re trying to acquire young people who are to be in this thing for the long haul.”

“They’re trying to acquire clients and this is the best way to keep prices at a level where they can,” Simmons prefaced.



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