Sun Life and BMO Insurance to treat all marijuana users as non-smokers

Sun Life and BMO Insurance to treat all marijuana users as non-smokers

National Post

In a sign of marijuana’s growing normalization in Canada, two major life insurance companies have decided to treat cannabis users as non-smokers, reversing a long-standing policy and offering many of them far cheaper premiums.

Like their competitors, Sun Life and BMO Insurance have for years classified anyone who disclosed using marijuana – either recreationally or for medical purposes – as a smoker, saddling them with charges that could be triple those of non-smokers.

But in memos released over the last week, the companies say the latest research on the drug’s health impacts convinced them to change that approach.

Sun Life’s new policy applies to all marijuana consumers who do not also smoke tobacco; BMO’s is more limited, benefiting recreational dabblers who smoke up to two “marijuana cigarettes” per week.

“In our industry, we keep up to date with medical studies and companies update their underwriting guidelines accordingly,” Sun Life said in a statement Friday. “As a result, people who use marijuana are now assessed … at non-smoker rates, unless they also use tobacco.”

In our industry, we keep up to date with medical studies and companies update their underwriting guidelines accordingly

The change comes as cannabis is increasingly accepted as a medicine for various ailments, and the federal government prepares to legalize recreational possession as well.

Their decision was likely motivated by what would have been an unthinkable factor for a legitimate corporation in the past: a burgeoning market of Canadians who admit to using marijuana, said broker Lorne Marr of Toronto’s LSM Insurance.

“They’re trying to get an edge on the other companies,” he suggested. “I don’t think they’re just trying to lower consumers’ premiums.”

The head of a patient advocacy organization hailed Sun Life’s new policy as an important breakthrough, saying the insurance issue has been a “huge concern.”

Not only have users of medical cannabis been forced to pay “exorbitant” life insurance rates, but in some cases they’ve actually been turned down for coverage, said Jonathan Zaid, founder of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana.

“It was a huge discrepancy in the way patients were being treated,” he said. “I’ve even heard of (medical marijuana users) who couldn’t get mortgages because they were denied life insurance.”

Companies apply the policy to patients who smoke pot, employ vaporizers or just consume the drug in edible products, said Zaid. And yet there is little good evidence that even long-term smoking of it causes cigarette-like harms, he said.

It was a huge discrepancy in the way patients were being treated

Cannabis smoke does contain many of the same carcinogens as tobacco fumes, but a Canadian co-authored study published last year — like others before it — concluded there was little evidence of an increased risk of lung cancer, even in habitual users. Experts say that’s likely because cigarette smokers suck in far more of those cancer-causing chemicals on average than pot users.

“It’s great that they’re recognizing that the old policy wasn’t based on science,” Zain said. “There’s no evidence that there is any long-term risk of cancer or anything equivalent to tobacco.”

Being treated as a smoker by insurers certainly carries a financial sting. One $500,000 policy with a 20-year term costs non-smokers $53 a month, smokers $148, said Marr.

Applications typically ask if customers use marijuana and, while it’s possible to give a false response, companies administer urine and blood tests to back up information clients give them, he said.

Marr said it’s likely now that other insurers will follow Sun Life’s example.

National Post

Scientific basis for laws on marijuana, driving questioned

By Joan Lowy

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON _ Motorists are being convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana based on arbitrary state standards that have no connection to whether the driver was actually impaired, says a study by the nation’s largest auto club.

The problem is only growing as more states contemplate legalizing the drug. At least three, and possibly as many as 11 states, will vote this fall on ballot measures to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, or both. Legislation to legalize the drug has also been introduced in a half dozen states.

Currently, six states Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have set specific limits for THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes people high, in drivers’ blood. Marijuana use is legal in those states for either recreational or medicinal purposes, with the exception of Ohio. The laws presume a driver whose THC level exceeds the threshold is impaired. But the study by AAA’s safety foundation says the limits have no scientific basis and can result in innocent drivers being convicted, and in guilty drivers being released.

“There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment in the same manner we do alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research.”

Another nine states, including some that have legalized marijuana for medical use, have zero-tolerance laws for driving and marijuana that make not only any presence of THC in a driver’s blood illegal, but also the presence of its metabolites, which can linger in a driver’s bloodstream for weeks after any impairment has dissipated.

That makes no sense, said Mark A. R. Kleiman, a New York University professor specializing in issues involving drugs and criminal policy. “A law against driving with THC in your bloodstream is not a law you can know you are obeying except by never smoking marijuana or never driving,” he said.

The problem is that determining whether someone is impaired by marijuana, as opposed to having merely used the drug, is far more complex than the simple and reliable tests that have been developed for alcohol impairment.

The degree to which a driver is impaired by marijuana use depends a lot on the individual, the foundation said. Drivers with relatively high levels of THC in their systems might not be impaired, especially if they are regular users, while others with relatively low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel.

Some drivers may be impaired when they are stopped by police, but by the time their blood is tested they have fallen below the legal threshold because active THC dissipates rapidly. The average time to collect blood from a suspected driver is often more than two hours because taking a blood sample typically requires a warrant and transport to a police station or hospital, the foundation said.

In addition, frequent marijuana users can exhibit persistent levels of the drug long after use, while THC levels can decline more rapidly among occasional users.

Colorado’s 5-nanogram limit for THC in blood “was picked out of thin air by politicians,” said Robert Corry, a Denver criminal defence attorney.  “Innocent people are convicted of DUI because of this.”

Melanie Brinegar, who uses marijuana every day to control back pain, was stopped by police two years ago for having an expired license plate. The officer smelled marijuana and Brinegar acknowledged she had used the drug earlier in the day. Her blood test showed a level of 19 nanograms, well over the state limit. She was arrested and charged with driving while impaired.

Brinegar, 30, who lives in Denver, said she spent the next 13 months working 80 to 90 hours a week to pay for a lawyer to help her fight the charge and eventually was acquitted. People like herself will always test positive for THC whether they are high or not because of their frequent use, she said.

“It took a good amount of my time and my life,” she said. “There is still that worry if I get pulled over (again).”

Studies show that using marijuana and driving roughly doubles the risk of a crash, Kleiman said. By comparison, talking on a hands-free cellphone while driving _ legal in all states _ quadruples crash risk, he said. A blood alcohol content of .12, which is about the median amount in drunken driving cases, increases crash risk by about 15 times, he said.

Driving with “a noisy child in the back of the car” is about as dangerous as using marijuana and driving, Kleiman said.

The exception is when a driver has both been using marijuana and drinking alcohol because the two substances together greatly heighten impairment, he said.

canada-press

Jonathan Zaid heads a group that’s partnered with a private medical marijuana provider

Read more

Managing Medical Marijuana In The Workplace In Canada

Article by Gabriel Granatstein

Federal regulations permit access to marijuana for medical purposes, and the use of marijuana can become a complicated issue in the workplace. Importantly, the Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that patients approved under the regulations should have access to all forms of cannabis products, including edible or topical cannabis products, as opposed to only marijuana in dried form. Following the Supreme Court’sdecision, and given the health risks associated with smoking, employees who are medically authorized to use marijuana may choose to rely on alternative means of administering their doses, such as by brewing marijuana leaves in tea or incorporating cannabis into baked goods.

The broadening of approved forms of marijuana for medical users raises several potential workplace issues, including: (1) the enforcement of drug policies, (2) the duty to accommodate under human rights legislation, and (3) employee privacy concerns relating to his or her authorized use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The first two of these issues were recently discussed in a decision by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. In this case, the employer enforced its “zero tolerance” drug policy by requiring an employee to stop smoking marijuana while at work. The employee was a cancer patient who stated that he smoked marijuana as a means of pain-management. However, despite the employee’s alleged use of the drug for medical purposes, the employee did not have a medical prescription or the required legal authorization for medical marijuana. Because the employee was not legally authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes, the Tribunal held that the employer’s enforcement of its drug policy did not contravene the British Columbia Human Rights Code. This case serves as an example of the interplay between the legal regime regulating medical marijuana and employment policies regulating drug use and health and safety at work.

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