A few weeks ago, Derek Peterson got a letter from Mutual of Omaha, turning him down for life insurance.
“Our decision was based on,” the letter said, then trailed off (Monty Python-style) and picked up in all caps:
WE HAVE DISCONTINUED THE PROCESSING OF YOUR APPLICATION FOR INSURANCE DUE TO COMPANY POLICY. WE CANNOT ACCEPT PREMIUM FROM INDIVIDUALS OR ENTITIES WHO ARE ASSOCIATED WITH THE MARIJUANA INDUSTRY.
Peterson is indeed associated with the marijuana industry. He is the chief executive officer of Terra Tech, a publicly traded pot company based in Irvine, Calif.
But what he had applied for was a personal policy, to be paid for with his own money, to protect his family in the event of his death.
“That’s what was insane to me,” said Peterson, who is now shopping at other insurers. “That just felt really discriminatory and purposeful.”
A spokesman for Mutual of Omaha declined to comment on the denial, saying the insurer’s underwriting guidelines are proprietary.
The legalization of marijuana is creating headaches not just for new marijuana businesses such as Terra Tech—which already have serious trouble paying taxes and getting bank accounts—but also for people who work in the booming industry, as well as for those who don't. Even in states like Colorado that have legalized recreational pot, employees can be fired for using the drug on their own time. Landlords aren’t sure how to handle pot-smoking tenants. So insurers and other financial services companies are mostly ad-libbing.
Insurers may view any association with marijuana as an indication of a “risky lifestyle,” not unlike skydiving or race car driving, said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, which is funded by insurance companies to provide information about the industry.
“The problem from a life insurance underwriter’s point of view is that, unlike tobacco, there isn’t a lot of data available to assess the risks of coverage for marijuana users,” Worters said. While some insurers will automatically deny coverage to marijuana users, others will simply charge them a higher premium, as they would a smoker, she said, while still others “tolerate an occasional user" without imposing any premium penalty.