Medical marijuana users face higher insurance rates, even if they don't smoke it

Many medical marijuana users in Canada pay a high price due to their prescriptions, because life insurance policies consider them smokers — no matter how they consume the drug.

Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled patients with legal prescriptions have the right to take marijuana in any form: including smoking it, using edible products, or using cannabis-infused teas and oils.

However, the country's life insurance industry can consider marijuana users similar to smokers, even if they use vaporizers or edibles.

"To be honest, it really doesn't make sense," said Syed Raza, the director of marketing with Toronto-based LSM Insurance.

"When they complete an application, they're expected to mark down that they are smokers. And as a result, pay a higher premium for their life insurance."

Smokers can sometimes pay twice as much as non-smokers for life insurance, Raza said, because of the correlation with more health problems.

However, he said edible marijuana or vaporizes arguably don't carry the same health risks, making the higher premiums unnecessary.

"So lumping them in with smokers doesn't really make sense. And with the premium difference that a smoker will pay over a non-smoker, it's just not right," he said.

The precise rules around medical marijuana are far from clear. In an email to CBC News, Life and Health Insurance Association spokeswoman Wendy Hope wrote that a marijuana user would be treated "similar to someone who is smoking, but that person is not necessarily classified as a smoker."

She could not elaborate on exactly how the classifications would differ, or what effect that would have on premiums.

Some medical marijuana users, such as Ryan Wolff, were unaware of this fact. Wolff was prescribed marijuana to deal with the pain from a nerve condition. Although he both smokes and ingests the drug, he said he's never received a warning that any marijuana use could lump people in with cigarette smokers.

"First time I've heard of it and it's quite shocking," he said. "You're not a smoker if you're not smoking."

It's not a trivial distinction — Raza said if medical marijuana users don't mark themselves down as a smokers on a life insurance applications, the company can later declare their claims invalid.

The United States has also had to face this problem, although Raza said some insurance companies are changing their policies are changing as states ease marijuana restrictions.

He said Canadian companies have yet to change their policies, but he believes they will eventually be forced to — if not by regulators, then by customers.

"The only way carriers are only going to change is by consumers voicing their opinions."

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