Those in America’s cannabis community may face some tricky terrain when seeking life insurance policies that acknowledge their habit without gouging their wallets. There are no black-and-white answers when it comes to this issue, and different companies have varying viewpoints relating to cannabis-consuming applicants. Frequency of use, type of use — medicinal or recreational — and even honesty regarding marijuana use can affect coverage approval and pricing.
Is a drug test mandatory for applicants?
Marijuana users hoping to skip the pre-approval exam and related drug screening may find dismal coverage options. “No-exam” policies do exist but typically have much higher premiums and lower death benefits — $50,000 at most for those 40 and older. Standard policies offer the best premiums compared to higher-value policies but require pre-approval exams that consider applicants’ comprehensive health profiles. They can include blood and urine analysis, which often test for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Depending on the type of test and one’s frequency of marijuana use, THC can remain detectable for a month after use.
Why do insurers care about THC?
THC causes the euphoric “high” feeling associated with cannabis. It can cause impairment to short-term memory, reaction time, motor skills, and attention. Some argue that consuming edible marijuana — usually in the form of a candy or food product — has greater short-term risks because the “high” is delayed one to two hours versus a five- to 10-minute delay when smoked. This can trigger overconsumption among those who think “it didn’t work” and continue to consume more in a short period of time, potentially causing anxiety, oversedation, or psychosis.
Marijuana’s long-term effects are less understood and highly debated. Opponents link the carcinogens in cannabis to those of cigarettes and claim long-term heavy smoking can cause dependency as well as cancer of the mouth, throat, and lungs. Proponents argue that recreational marijuana is less addictive and safer than alcohol and cigarettes and medicinal — used as a highly effective natural treatment for dozens of common diseases and disorders.
So where does marijuana fit on a carrier’s risk-factor spectrum?
According to a June 2016 PBS report, 80% of 148 underwriters surveyed said marijuana use indeed affects their decisions on whether to offer life insurance coverage and how to price it. But 29% of those respondents also classified marijuana users as nonsmokers if those users did not also smoke tobacco. This is very important because smokers’ life insurance premiums can be twice as high as those of nonsmokers.
Some companies automatically put recreational marijuana use in the same category as smoking cigarettes, meaning they may either charge smokers rates or deny coverage. Others determine coverage and rates based on frequency of cannabis use. What is considered “frequent” to an underwriter is extremely subjective, and some define frequent as more than twice a month while others define it as more than twice a week.
But what about medicinal marijuana? Having a valid prescription may help bolster one’s case for better coverage and rates, but the medical condition that warrants the marijuana use may be the real risk factor in insurers’ eyes. For example, insurers can deny someone who smokes cannabis to ward off the ill-effects of cancer treatments coverage or deal high premiums because of the cancer — not the marijuana use.
Tips for cannabis-consuming insurance shoppers
Life insurance applicants who use marijuana should be transparent about their use and frequency of use. Those who lie or misrepresent their marijuana usage can not only be denied coverage by that insurance company but can also be reported to the Medical Information Bureau, which places a red flag on all future applications with any company. If dishonesty is discovered after a policyholder dies, insurers can deny or rescind death benefits.
Honesty is also the best policy for cannabis users. Insurance companies aren’t drug-enforcement agencies and do not typically share drug test results with law enforcement, according to The Law Dictionary article. Underwriters are focused on the health effects of marijuana — not its current legality.
The complex and evolving issues surrounding marijuana use and life insurance means policy seekers should consult a well-informed insurance agent who can help them sort through the myriad options of various carriers. Professional assistance by a knowledgeable insurance expert can help ensure that getting high doesn’t automatically mean paying high premiums.