Tag Archives: Marijuana

Studies: Car Crashes Rise as Recreational Cannabis Becomes Legal in States

Connecticut this week became the latest state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and more are expected to follow.

The increased marijuana use that accompanies legalization has raised concerns about road safety.

Researchers at Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) since 2014 have been examining how legalization has affected crash rates and insurance claims, and evidence is emerging that crash rates go up when states legalize recreational use and retail sales of marijuana.

The most recent of these studies, released on June 17 by the IIHS, shows that injury and fatal crash rates in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington jumped in the months following relaxation of marijuana laws in each state. The five states experienced a 6 percent increase in injury crash rates and a 4 percent increase in fatal crash rates, compared with other Western states where recreational marijuana use was illegal during the study period.

Only the increase in injury crash rates was statistically significant.

“Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” says IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey. “That’s obviously something policymakers and safety professionals will need to address as more states move to liberalize their laws — even if the way marijuana affects crash risk for individual drivers remains uncertain.”

Insurance records show a similar increase in claims under collision coverage, which pays for damage to an at-fault, insured driver’s own vehicle, according to HLDI’s latest analysis. The legalization of retail sales in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington was associated with a 4 percent increase in collision claim frequency compared with the other Western states from 2012 to 2019. That’s down slightly from the 6 percent increase HLDI identified in a previous study, which covered 2012  to 2018.

While the evidence that crash rates have increased in states that legalized marijuana is mounting, it appears that further study is needed to determine whether marijuana use alone is responsible. Preliminary data suggests people who use alcohol and marijuana together are accountable for most of the crashes.

Another factor may be that marijuana users in counties that do not allow retail sales are driving to counties that do. The increased travel could lead to more crashes, even if their crash risk per mile traveled is no higher than that of other drivers.

Cannabis Industry Prospects Brighten;
Risks, Challenges Remain

The future looks brighter every day for the cannabis industry.

From recent findings that cannabis components may lead to treatment or even prevention of coronavirus infection in lung cells to yesterday’s vote by the House of Representatives in favor of the Safe Banking Act, barricades to full legalization just keep falling.

This isn’t the first time the act – which would protect banks from federal penalties for doing business with cannabis-related businesses that comply with state laws – has made it through the House. It was first introduced in March 2019, and the House has approved it three times, only to have the Senate Banking Committee block its progress. But with the current Democrat majority, apparent bipartisan support, and growing public and state-government support for cannabis legalization, the fourth time just might be the charm.

Similar federal “safe harbor” legislation for the insurance industry – the Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana Act (CLAIM Act) – was introduced last month.

“More optimism”

The Drug Enforcement Agency characterizes cannabis as a Schedule I drug, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Without legislative change, banks and insurers can’t do business with business without risking running afoul of federal drug laws.

“There’s more optimism now and an assumption that they’re going to work to pass some of these bills that have been in motion for a while now, but never hit the point of actually moving forward,” said Max Meade, cannabis insurance advisor at Brown & Brown Insurance. “I’m also seeing more conversations around working to bundle some of these bills that they’ve been talking about and do a larger cannabis reform.”

As states continue to decriminalize marijuana to different degrees, one of the biggest issues facing cannabis businesses is the 280E federal tax burden, which means cannabis businesses can’t expense the normal cost of goods or anything a normal business can during the course of operation, from utilities to payroll and rent. This means marijuana businesses often pay federal income tax rates in the 65–75 percent range, compared to 15-30 percent  for other businesses. They are taxed on their gross revenues, unlike all regular businesses, which pay tax only on income after their expenses.

The Small Business Tax Equity Act would provide an exception into the Internal Revenue Code to let cannabis operators – as long as they’re in compliance with state laws – make the same deductions as any other business.

Easier to operate

Passage of these laws would make it easier for cannabis-related businesses to operate. The CLAIM Act would let these businesses obtain insurance to cover the same risks of theft, damage, injury, loss, and liability as all other businesses.  

“There are upwards of 30 surplus lines carriers and several managing general underwriters that currently service the cannabis industry across many lines of coverage,” the National Law Review reports. “There also is a small handful of admitted carriers that operate in California, and most recently in Arizona.”

While market capacity for property, commercial general liability, product liability and workers’ compensation coverage has expanded – these policies remain more expensive than the same coverage purchased by similar companies in other industries. Passage of the CLAIM Act would open the doors for more insurers and should bring the cost of insuring marijuana-related businesses much less expensive.

THC persistence a challenge

But challenges will remain – particularly with respect to the workplace. When marijuana was illegal under both state and federal law, employers would typically prohibit employees or employment candidates from using marijuana off-duty as a condition of employment. But as states have begun to permit medical marijuana, things have gotten a bit hazier.

No state requires companies to accommodate on-duty marijuana use. As with recreational marijuana, no state that permits medical marijuana requires employers to accommodate on-duty marijuana use, possession, or impairment. States will often explicitly state that medical marijuana laws don’t affect an employer’s drug-free workplace policy.

Does workers compensation cover a workplace accident in which the injured employee tested positive for marijuana? Persistence of THC – the main psychoactive compound in marijuana – complicates this question, and state courts have differed on this issue, depending on the individual details of each case.

THC persistence also complicates issues around impaired driving.

I.I.I. Report: Patchwork of state marijuana laws causing headaches for employers, insurers

Today Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker is reportedly going to sign into law a bill that legalizes recreational marijuana in the state. That makes Illinois the eleventh state (plus D.C.) to legalize marijuana for adult use.

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But as medical and recreational marijuana legalization spreads, concerns about what this means for workplace safety and workers compensation continue to grow. What is the impact of legal marijuana on workplace safety, employer duties and obligations and workers compensation insurance?

Today, the I.I.I. published a report that examines the current state of the issue. (Download the report here.)

Haze of confusion: How employers and insurers are affected by a patchwork of state marijuana laws” dives into the following questions:

  • How does marijuana intoxication work and how might it impact workplace safety?
  • What accommodations, if any, are employers expected to provide for workers that use marijuana?
  • Does workers compensation insurance provide benefits to injured employees testing positive for marijuana? What about reimbursement to injured workers for medical marijuana?

Unfortunately, none of these questions have straightforward answers. Every state’s laws and regulations governing these issues are different, not to mention that federal law prohibits marijuana outright. To complicate matters further, state laws and regulations are constantly changing. Employment and insurance activities once prohibited are often now permitted – or required.

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Legal marijuana isn’t going away. Employers and insurers will continue to grapple with a rapidly changing environment, perhaps for years to come.

To learn more, download the report here.

It’s safe to work in (not on) marijuana

There’s a pervasive myth out there that the marijuana industry is an unregulated Wild West populated by desperadoes and mountebanks out to score a quick buck.

But even a passing familiarity with how the industry operates in states with legal recreational and medical marijuana should be enough to dispel that myth. Marijuana operations are subject to extremely strict licensing requirements and regulatory oversight. Every player in the marijuana supply chain is tightly controlled – from cultivators to retail stores to, yes, the buyers themselves.

In fact, a recent analysis from workers compensation insurer Pinnacol Assurance suggests that the industry’s strict regulatory oversight may also be the reason why it’s a safe industry to work in.

Pinnacol’s analysis looked at Colorado claims data for marijuana workers. There were 350 injuries in 2018, most of which were strains, cuts, and slips and falls. Pinnacol concluded that the industry is relatively safe when compared to similar job-types in Colorado.

In addition to tight regulations, the analysis suggests that Colorado marijuana operators are also increasingly focused on safety and risk mitigation.

But working in marijuana is different from working on marijuana. Working stoned is probably a bad idea. You can read more about marijuana and employment issues here.

I.I.I. Report: Marijuana legalization raises concerns about drugged driving

The “green gold rush” shows no sign of slowing.

Most recently, New Jersey legislators reportedly announced a bill that would permit recreational marijuana. If signed into law, New Jersey would join ten other states and D.C. that currently permit recreational marijuana. More than 30 states and D.C. also permit medical marijuana programs of some kind.

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But as legalization spreads, concerns about driving under the influence of marijuana continue unabated.

Today, the I.I.I. has published a report that examines the current state of the issue.

A rocky road so far: Recreational marijuana and impaired driving” dives into the hazy questions surrounding marijuana impairment: its effects on driving abilities, how traffic safety might be impacted, and how states are grappling with the issue of “stoned driving.” (Download the report here.)

Unfortunately, there are still many unknowns when it comes to stoned driving. Marijuana impairment degrades cognitive and motor skills, of course – but marijuana-impaired driving is an evolving issue with many questions and few concrete answers. Legalization is still relatively recent. Data are still being gathered. How to understand and measure marijuana impairment are still open questions.

Do the rates of marijuana-impaired driving increase following recreational legalization? Answer: probably. Does marijuana-impaired driving increase crash risks? Answer: probably, but we still don’t concretely know to what degree. What about traffic fatalities – do those increase after legalization? There’s evidence that traffic fatalities could increase following legalization, but there is still quite a bit of discussion about this issue.

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There is active research, discussion and debate being conducted to answer these and other questions. As more states legalize recreational marijuana, forthcoming answers will become ever more critical to help best guide public policy and traffic safety initiatives.

To learn more, download the report here.

Hemp Legalization: What Happened?

Congress has passed the 2018 Farm Bill and President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law. A key part of the bill (once enacted) will legalize hemp cultivation and sale on the federal level – with certain restrictions, of course. The previous farm bill only permitted individual states to develop programs for hemp cultivation.

Hemp is an agricultural commodity that’s used in tens of thousands of products, everything from textiles to industrial products to food. But when we talk about hemp, there are a few things that underwriters and other insurance professional should be aware of.

“Hemp” has a specific definition. Under the bill, hemp is defined as the plant Cannabis sativa L. that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the cannabinoid that gets users high. THC levels in hemp are so low that they can’t get users high.

Hemp is not marijuana. Hemp is a plant in the genus Cannabis, a genus which includes marijuana and hemp. These two plants are chemically distinct. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Hemp and hemp-derived products can cross state lines. Importantly, hemp can cross state lines in interstate commerce under the 2018 bill. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, only individual states could establish programs for hemp cultivation.

Hemp cultivators will be licensed. Not just anyone can grow hemp. The bill directs state and federal agencies to develop regulatory procedures for licensing hemp cultivators.

Hemp and hemp-derived cannabinoids are non-psychoactive. A popular chemical found in Cannabis plants (including marijuana) is “cannabidiol” (CBD). CBD has some properties like THC but can’t get users high. Hemp-derived CBD is being infused into all sorts of consumers products, from facial creams to chocolate. There’s also at least one cocktail bar in Brooklyn that will add a shot of CBD to your martini.

The FDA has a stance on CBD – and it’s not permissive. But speaking of chocolate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that it’s illegal to sell CBD-added food and food products across state lines. Whether it’s legal to sell CBD-added food within a state depends on that state’s law (this National Law Review article has more information on the issue).

Pot is now legal in Canada. What could it mean for homeowners insurance?

As of today, recreational pot is legal across Canada. Two weeks ago, we looked into how pot legalization could impact Canada’s road safety. 

Now let’s talk a little bit about homeowners insurance and marijuana. 

Except for Manitoba and Quebec, all Canadian provinces will let people grow a small amount of marijuana at home – usually up to four plants.  

Unfortunately for the aspiring bud-growers out there, growing pot isn’t as easy as growing basil. Marijuana is a fickle weed and needs a lot of care to grow into a viable plant. It can be grown outside or on the window-sill, but a healthy and vibrant marijuana especially likes a hot, light-intensive, steamy environment – not exactly an accurate description of Canada’s climate.   

Which is why a whole industry has grown up around providing home-growers with hydroponic, lighting, and climate control systems to grow pot indoors, safely tucked away from the blinding snows and sub-zero temperatures of a Canadian winter.  

How will home-grown marijuana affect homeowners insurance?  

Higher risks. Well, for one, these grow systems are definitely not risk-free. High-intensity heat lamps can mean a strung-out electrical system, which can lead to fires. Humid temperature controls mean lots of moisture, which can damage your house with mold and fungi growths. 

Higher premiums. Higher risks mean that an insurance company will probably ask for more premium to make up the difference. A spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada has been quoted as saying that insurers asking about home-grown pot may become routine: “[insurers] just want an accurate idea of what you’re doing and any risk factors that should go into determining your premium […] they’re going to underwrite your policy based on a number of factors. It’s just another factor that gets consideration when setting an insurance premium.” 

Coverage questions. It’s also important to know what your insurance does and does not cover. For example, some damage caused by mold or fungi is often excluded by a standard homeowners policy. And most policies limit the amount of money an insurer will pay for damaged plants. This limit might not always be high enough to reimburse for marijuana plants, which can be pretty valuable.  

So if you’re a Canadian planning to use a marijuana grow system at home, talk to your insurer – especially if you’ll be installing complicated equipment.

What will legal marijuana mean for Canada’s road safety?

don’t drive stoned.

As you’ve probably heard, recreational marijuana will be legal across Canada come October 17, 2018. Will stoned driving increase? Will this lead to more accidents and fatalities?

We can’t divine the future, of course.  But perhaps we can learn something from the past. Did roads become more dangerous after states began legalizing recreational pot in the U.S.?

The short answer: probably, to some degree.

  • The more stoned a driver is, the more likely she is to be involved in an accident. Motor and cognitive skills are important for safe driving. Getting stoned makes both these skills worse – and the more stoned a person is, the more these skills deteriorate.
  • The number of “THC-positive” drivers on the road increased after legalization. In Washington state, at least. There’s evidence that the percentage of stoned drivers went up noticeably after the state legalized recreational pot.
  • Fatal crashes involving drivers who tested positive for THC increased. Some studies indicate that more people with “detectible” levels of THC in their bloodstreams were involved in fatal accidents after legalization.
  • Collision claim frequency appears to have increased. Early analysis suggests that states with legal marijuana have higher rates of car collisions than they would have had without legalization.

There is an important caveat to all this. You’d think that figuring out when someone is stoned would be easy. It’s not. Unlike alcohol, measuring marijuana impairment is complicated. THC can remain in a user’s bloodstream for days, even weeks, after getting high. Having THC in her bloodstream at the site of an accident does not automatically mean a driver was stoned at the time of a crash.

To make matters worse, to what degree marijuana impacts one person’s driving skills is also not so clear-cut as you’d think. Marijuana impacts different people differently. Researchers are currently trying to figure out how to account for things like THC tolerance when they measure how much marijuana increases crash risks.

But despite these complications, most evidence suggests that stoned driving is a bad idea – it endangers the driver, passengers, and other drivers. For this reason, Canadian provinces have begun revising their impaired driving laws to come down harder on stoned driving.

So what does this mean for road safety in Canada? It’s still too early to tell, but marijuana legalization in the U.S. should serve as a warning.

Americans’ Attitudes about Marijuana Use and Driver Safety Evolve with the Times. A Preview of I.I.I. Research Polling on the Subject

By James Ballot, Senior Advisor, Content Marketing

Americans’ attitudes about pot use have become more nuanced; 29 states and the District of Columbia (accounting for about 62 percent of the U.S. population in 2016) have passed laws legalizing the use of marijuana for medical or recreational use.

There are clear insurance issues to this trend. The Highway Loss Data Institute found that crash rates rose in states where recreational marijuana was legalized. The National Council on Compensation Insurance has a running conversation about how changes in the use of cannabis could affect workers compensation insurance.

While conducting research for a forthcoming I.I.I. poll, some interesting and unexpected trends emerged, including:

  • Most Americans know the legality of marijuana use where they live
  • A slight majority of Americans believe that driving while high results in more motor vehicle crashes

And yet…

  • Americans also voice greater tolerance of drivers who have used marijuana (compared to those who had consumed alcohol)
    • Respondents age 18 to 34 were more likely to say that they would ride in a car with a driver who has consumed marijuana (37 percent), followed by 34 percent of people between the ages of 35 and 44

We’ll release a report with polling results and our key learnings from the data in the near future. In the meantime, the conversation over safety issues related to legal medical and recreational cannabis will find larger, more mainstream audiences. To keep up with these and other discussions, be sure to follow @III_Research on Twitter.

 

Medical Marijuana and Insurers

A Los Angeles Times blog post reports that marijuana lollipops were for sale on the Lakers parade route yesterday.

Apparently a food truck, Weed World Candies.com, was handing out the lollipops for free to customers that had a prescription card allowing them to purchase marijuana.

In addition to the orange and blue marijuana lollipops, the truck carried a variety of marijuana brands, according to the LA Times.

California became the first state to approve medical marijuana in 1996 and this November voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana even without a medical prescription. The liberalization of state marijuana laws is an issue that insurers are monitoring.

A BestWeek article by Meg Green via insurancenewsnet.com reports that to-date 14 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, while another 10 states have medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot this year and insurers are playing a key role in this emerging market. BestWeek says:

Billions of dollars are at stake. Marijuana is the biggest cash crop in California, where it brings in $14 billion a year in sales. That’s almost twice the amount brought in by the state’s second-largest agricultural commodity, milk and cream, which brings in $7.3 billion a year, according to the most recent USDA statistics.

As marijuana moves from the counterculture world into the mainstream, a new wave of businesses — including growers, suppliers, manufacturers, transporters and dispensaries — is emerging, and the insurance industry has taken note.†

As well as an emerging market, the legalization of medical marijuana is a growing employment-related issue with potential implications for workers compensation insurers. Fellow bloggers over at Workers Comp Insider have a number of posts on this topic. Check out an earlier post that provides a great overview of some of the key issues.

Meanwhile, over at National Underwriter Susanne Sclafane writes that employment practices liability (EPL) experts see the use of medical marijuana as a growing issue for EPL insurers. Check out her article here.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has an overview of state medical marijuana laws here.