(Bloomberg) — Marijuana users, who can now buy weed without fear of arrest in some U.S. states, can also get life insurance without facing a smoker penalty — if they shop carefully.
Among insurers with policies in place for ganja users, 29 percent classify them as non-smokers, according to a survey released this month by a U.S. unit of Munich Re. One-fifth of life companies don’t have official polices in place, the reinsurer found.
Pot has long been treated by authorities as more dangerous than tobacco. That has been changing, with more than 20 U.S. states allowing the drug for medicinal purposes. Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington approved recreational use. While the science is conclusive on cigarettes shortening life expectancies, underwriters don’t have as much to go on when assessing the risks of covering stoners.
“We don’t have clarity yet,” Bill Moore, vice president of underwriting and medical for Munich American Reassurance, said in a phone interview. “There just isn’t good, valid data for us to say ‘Oh, we know exactly what the risk of recreational marijuana usage over a 20-year period of time is.’”
Insurers can require medical examinations, family histories and information about dangerous activities like skydiving. Different companies have their own methods of weighing risks when setting rates for customers.
Elanders Ballard, an account executive at insurance brokerage AccuQuote, said he often refers frequent marijuana users to Transamerica, a unit of Netherlands-based Aegon NV. Other companies may treat occasional recreational pot use harshly, even if the insurers tolerate use of smokeless tobacco, he said.
“You can dip and chew,” Ballard said. “But you smoke a little marijuana more than occasionally, you’re a smoker.”
Prudential Financial Inc.’s decisions can range from standard rates to declination of coverage, based on the pattern of recreational marijuana use, Mike McFarland, vice president and chief underwriter of life insurance at the Newark, New Jersey-based company, said in an e-mail. Both marijuana users and consumers of smokeless tobacco are ineligible for the company’s preferred rate, he said.
New York Life Insurance Co. also weighs frequency of consumption.
“With mild or moderate usage, no extra charge is usually needed if the applicant has not had any adverse effects,” Thomas Gangemi, vice president and chief underwriter, said in an e-mail. “For heavy recreational use, we may assign a substandard debit.”