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Canadian Life Insurance Companies Stop Categorizing Pot Users as ‘Smokers’

Changing social attitudes and policy change go hand-in-hand.

A.J. Herrington

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Canadian Life Insurance Companies Stop Categorizing Pot Users as ‘Smokers’
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Life insurance companies in Canada are becoming more accepting of cannabis, and many firms have stopped categorizing pot users as smokers. Joan Weir, the director of health and disability policy for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, told the CBC that many companies are no longer penalizing light users and “have moved to a model whereby as long as it was two or less per week then you would not be a smoker.”

But, she cautioned, there are still risks associated with smoking marijuana.

“It is still smoke,” Weir said. “You’re still taking something into your lungs.”

Insurance broker Lorne Marr said that the changes were made in anticipation of the legalization of cannabis in Canada.

“They saw the writing on the wall in terms of legislation,” Marr said, “but the changes came about a little bit before.”

Marr noted that the new standards are still evolving, but some cannabis users are already seeing a reduction in their insurance bills.

“A lot of the guidelines are still a little bit ambiguous,” Marr says. “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.”

Another broker, Jeff Simmons, said that insurance companies need to keep adding new customers and must change with the times to do so.

“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.”

Insurers Still Want to Know If You’re Using Pot

But just because insurance companies are taking a more liberal stance toward cannabis, it will still be a factor in determining premiums for some customers, according to Marr.

“On the application, marijuana is going to be one of the questions,” he said. “They’re looking at how much you smoke but they’re also looking at other health issues.”

Marr added that cannabis users who have some medical conditions might be a cause for concern.

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

Are Insurance Companies Moving Too Fast?

Dr. Harold Kalant, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s School of Medicine, believes that insurance companies may be reassessing the risk posed by cannabis prematurely. Researchers and underwriters need more data to better understand the long-term health effects of cannabis use, according to Kalant.

“The trouble is we don’t know the exact statistics because it hasn’t been a long enough period of time to have good public health epidemiological observations recorded,” he said.

For example, data suggests that middle-aged male cannabis users might be at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke. If that’s the case, insurers could be responsible for big payouts in the future.

“If the proportion of users in the middle-age or older group increases, then that would be a significant risk for health which the insurance companies are not yet really in a position to assess,” Kalant said. “They are not really going to be in a position to make an accurate decision that will be economically good for them for another four or five years.”

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