What one life insurance expert says about marijuana


Adam Cecil

Adam Cecil

Former Staff Writer

Adam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

Published February 7, 2017 | 3 min read

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Featured Image What one life insurance expert says about marijuana

Navigating life insurance as a marijuana user can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. A big part of why it’s complicated is that the life insurance companies don’t agree on how marijuana affects your health and long-term life expectancy. Unlike something like heart disease or a family history of cancer, life insurance companies don’t have a wealth of medical research and claims experience to refer to when setting rates for marijuana users.

To complicate matters further, some life insurance companies don’t want to deal with it at all, declining you outright if you use marijuana in any form. Some companies may offer smoker rates to people who take THC in pill form – a common medicinal form of marijuana – despite the fact that they aren’t actually smokers.

Many marijuana users end up lying about their marijuana use on their life insurance applications to just avoid the complication all together. However, lying about any part of your life insurance application is a pretty big risk. Not only could a result from a medical test show that you lied, causing the whole application to be declined, but you run the risk of having your life insurance policy canceled after it goes into effect. Life insurance companies have a two year "look back" period in which they can re-examine your medical history if you die within the first two years of your policy.

While that may sound like a small risk, the whole point of buying life insurance is to cover the risk of an early death. Introducing risk into a product designed to cover risk is a Russian nesting doll of trouble that we wouldn’t suggest. Besides, there are a lot of life insurance companies that are happy to cover marijuana users.

To help navigate through some of the challenges of getting high and buying life insurance, we talked to John Voelker, an underwriting consultant. Underwriting is the process by which life insurance companies figure out if you’re medically good to go, and what’s the appropriate premium to charge, so Voelker is basically an expert on how your medical history affects your life insurance rates. Here’s what we asked him.

Should you disclose that you use marijuana at the start of the life insurance application?

"Absolutely," says Voelker. As we mentioned above, the risks of not disclosing far outweigh the benefits of just fessing up.

Do life insurance companies test for THC? Will any trace of THC in your urine result in a red flag, or are there different tiers?

Big no on different tiers – you either have THC in your urine, or you don’t. Luckily, Voelker tells us, "there are some carriers that test, but a majority do not. And yes, it’s a red flag if you test positive and the applicant previously denied any marijuana use."

What are the other diseases or medical conditions associated with marijuana use that underwriters are most concerned about?

The two biggest things that life insurance companies will look for in a marijuana user’s medical history are depression or a history of alcohol abuse. Voelker also told us that there are some pulmonary issues that are of extra concern when combined with marijuana use.

Let’s say I’m a marijuana user and I’m planning on disclosing my use to the life insurance company. Should I prepare for my medical exam in any special way?

Voelker told us that he would recommend "no marijuana use for two weeks prior to the insurance paramedical examination." While this should be simple advice for recreational marijuana users to follow, it may be more difficult if you use medicinal marijuana. Always follow your doctor’s orders, regardless of an upcoming paramedical examination.

If any laws or scientific studies change the way we view marijuana within the next few years, would there be a chance for marijuana users to have their rates reconsidered?

"I don’t see any laws that would change marijuana ratings," Voelker told us. "Being legal doesn’t make something medically okay for you – see cigarettes and alcohol use." But Voelker did leave the door open to science changing the way marijuana rates are decided. "As with anything, if there are favorable changes to the impact on mortality, carriers would change their guidelines and ratings." Does this mean current marijuana-using life insurance owners will be able to get better rates down the line? Potentially – but don’t bank on it quite yet.

Have more questions about how marijuana affects life insurance rates? We have a ton of articles on it, covering every part of the insurance shopping process. You can also talk to one of our life insurance experts through chat or by calling our help line to find out how your marijuana use might impact your upcoming life insurance application.