One of the most increasingly common impairments we’re getting requests for – and underwriting concerns with – is marijuana or cannabis use. With the frequency of use becoming more common in today’s society, along with legalization in some states for recreational use, and many more that have OK’d the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, marijuana has become a very frequent topic for underwriting discussion. Regardless of what your personal views may be on the subject, the fact is that the use of the drug is more prevalent than ever and we must address the issue when it arises during the life insurance application and underwriting process.
What Is Cannabis?
Cannabis is a natural psychoactive drug that comes from the flowers and leaves of the hemp/marijuana plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary ingredient in cannabis that causes euphoria and intoxication. Cannabis is most commonly smoked as a cigarette or in a pipe. It can also be taken orally, either by eating it directly or by mixing it with food products. Short-term memory and attention, motor skills reaction time and skilled activities are impaired while the individual is intoxicated. Cannabis contains carcinogens and evidence suggests that heavy cannabis use may be associated with oral cavity, pharynx, esophageal and lung cancers. Because of those concerns, many carriers will assign smoker/tobacco use rates for any use.
For underwriting consideration, the first thing we must determine is whether the use is recreational, or if the proposed insured had been issued a prescription for medical use. If for medicinal purposes, underwriting is going to be looking to the specific issue that the marijuana is being used to treat. Medical legalization is intended to provide beneficial treatment for those suffering debilitating symptoms. However, severity is subjective and open to interpretation. These uses may include severe pain, muscle spasms, severe arthritis, cancer or HIV related symptoms, weight loss, nausea, glaucoma and seizures from epilepsy. This highlights the need for full information considering not only potentially serious uninsurable conditions, but also the high potential risk for misuse.
For recreational use the underwriter is going to want to know the frequency of use. Classification of marijuana use can run anywhere from experimental or intermittent use for those who have tried, but no longer use or using up to a couple of times a month or less…to moderate use which would be those whose use is as frequent as 8-16 times monthly…to heavy use which would be those that use frequency is more than 4 times weekly or daily use. There is evidence that many cannabis users do not abuse other drugs. However, multiple drug and alcohol use can be encountered with cannabis use and when combined, is more toxic than each drug alone.
The primary questions to be asked of a proposed insured that presents with marijuana use history are:
- Is the use for recreational or medicinal purpose?
- If for medical concerns, what is the underlying health condition?… and what is the severity?
- What is the frequency of use?
- How is it used?…smoked/inhaled or ingested? (some carriers treat this type of use differently)
- Have there been any problems with law enforcement?…or Dr’s concern over use?
- Any other drug use or alcohol concerns?
The underwriting of an applicant with marijuana use will often end up with Std Smoker offers at best, with a lot of carriers…but we do have some that look at this more aggressively, and depending on frequency and/or whether or not it’s medicinal use, we still have a few that can rate at Std Non-smoker or occasionally, even at Preferred classes. Each individual case will be looked at based on its own characteristics.