Tag Archives: Medical Marijuana

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.

Medical marijuana is not a prescription drug

marijuana is a drug, but not a “drug”

I’m going to get a little wonky here, bear with me.

The standard homeowners insurance policy only explicitly mentions the word “marijuana” once: to exclude it from liability coverage. Basically, the policy says that the insurer won’t pay for any bodily injuries or property damage to another person arising out of any controlled substance, including marijuana.

But there’s an interesting wrinkle to this. The exclusion also states the following: “However, this exclusion does not apply to the legitimate use of prescription drugs by a person following the orders of a licensed physician.”

“Wait,” you say. “Isn’t there a conflict here? Wouldn’t the policy cover damages from medical marijuana, since it’s a prescription drug?”

Sorry to rain on your parade, but the answer is no.

All together now: Medical marijuana is not a prescription drug

You can be forgiven for thinking that medical marijuana is a prescription drug. After all, that’s how it’s often described by news outlets the world over: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, etc.

But medical marijuana is not a prescription drug under any state’s current medical marijuana program.

Physicians don’t “prescribe” marijuana like they do painkillers and other drugs. Rather, physicians will “certify,” “recommend,” or “authorize” (the exact wording depends on the state) that a patient qualifies under a state program to purchase marijuana products. Often this qualification depends on whether a patient suffers from any of a list of “qualifying conditions” – which vary by state.

With a “recommendation” in hand, the patient can then purchase medical marijuana products from a dispensary, subject to various state-specific limitations (like how much marijuana they can buy in any given month).

“Prescription”, on the other hand, has a specific meaning. The Kansas City Medical Society notes that medical drugs are supported by years of study that can provide guidelines for dosages and plans of care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates these drugs. Patients with a prescription receive these drugs from a certified pharmacist.

Not so with marijuana. Though some states do require physician dosage recommendations, these are not well understood. The FDA has “not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any indication.” Medical marijuana dispensaries are not pharmacies. They don’t employ pharmacists. The people selling the marijuana are basically like knowledgeable sommeliers at a fancy liquor store.

As we saw above, this distinction has insurance implications. As another example, consider workers’ compensation insurance: do these policies reimburse for an injured worker’s medical marijuana? The answer is far more complicated than you’d think.

One more time: medical marijuana is not a prescription drug.

Some Facts About Medical Marijuana

Insurance Information Institute chief actuary James Lynch reports from last week’s Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) conference: 

I shock no one, I hope, by saying the nation’s attitude toward marijuana has loosened. More than half the states allow marijuana use, either as a medicine or just for fun. The federal government still forbids its use.

It’s a tough spot for insurers. Auto insurers worry that high drivers will cause auto accidents. Workers compensation workers are concerned that high employees will cause work accidents. Insurers want to obey the law, but federal law conflicts with the law in most states.

There are also questions about using marijuana to treat pain, as an alternative to opioids.

Not surprising that weed was the topic of conversation several times at last week’s WCRI conference in Boston.

Alex Swedlow of the California Workers Compensation Institute noted the following:

  • Six states require workers comp insurers to reimburse injured workers who use medical marijuana: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico.
  • Six states forbid insurers from reimbursing for medical marijuana: Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Vermont.
  • The federal laws against marijuana mean it is illegal to use the banking system to purchase marijuana. So an insurer can’t write a check against to pay for the drug. They use cash.

Dr. Dean Hashimoto of the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents provided these facts. They are taken from a National Academy of Sciences report published in January, which is itself a summary of all research on the issue:

  • There is conclusive evidence or substantial evidence that marijuana:
    • Improves the lot of adults in chronic pain.
    • Increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes.
    • Increases the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses.
  • There is moderate support suggesting that marijuana:
    • Improves short-term sleep outcomes for people with fibromyalgia or chronic pain.
    • Increases impairment of learning, memory and attention span.
    • Increases dependence on alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs.
  • It is not possible to determine whether marijuana use is statistically correlated with occupational injuries.

The California WC report is here www.cwci.org/document.php?file=3090.pdf. The National Academy of Sciences report is here.