Insurance panel: legalization of marijuana could throw wrench in workers’ comp, auto insurance

by | Dec 15, 2023

  • A panel at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Insurance Summit highlighted emerging issues in the state’s insurance industry due to the progression toward marijuana legalization.
  • The panel largely focused on workers’ compensation and auto insurance, with concerns about the ambiguity in reimbursing medical marijuana under workers’ compensation and the impact of marijuana legalization on auto insurance risk assessments and premiums.
  • A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize non-medical marijuana use for adults is gaining traction in Florida, with the state’s Supreme Court set to decide on its inclusion in the 2024 ballot, amidst broad public support.

The progression towards the legalization of marijuana in Florida poses new challenges for the state’s insurance industry, a panel at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Insurance Summit contended on Friday.

The discussion, primarily centered on workers’ compensation and auto insurance, delved into the intricacies and evolving issues within the insurance sector as it navigates the changing legal landscape of marijuana use.

Dawn Ingham, representing the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), brought attention to documented ambiguity surrounding the reimbursement of medical marijuana under workers’ compensation insurance. She cited a 2018 case in which a Florida worker, injured on the job and subsequently testing positive for marijuana, was denied workers’ compensation benefits.

“In Florida, there is a rebuttable presumption of intoxication which allows for the denial of a worker’s compensation claim if the worker tests positive for marijuana at the time of the [workplace] injury,” said Ingham.

The conversation further examined the divisive national policies on reimbursing medical marijuana under workers’ compensation insurance. Florida’s laws currently exclude medical marijuana from such coverage, contrary to some other states where reimbursement is either allowed or mandated.

A significant challenge discussed was determining compensation eligibility in cases of workplace injuries or deaths linked to marijuana impairment. This issue is exacerbated by the lack of standardized testing for marijuana impairment, contrasting with the established methods for alcohol testing.

“How can an employer prove that the employee was impaired while they were injured on the job?” asked Ingham. “Testing for marijuana versus alcohol is very different because marijuana can register on a drug test but you don’t know when that individual used the drug or whether they were impaired when the accident happened.”

The panel also tackled the implications of marijuana legalization on auto insurance. Cathy Chase of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety pointed to a growing trend of marijuana-related traffic incidents and the need for improved data collection and impairment testing methodologies. This lack of reliable testing, she claimed, could significantly affect auto insurance through altered risk assessments, policy premiums, and coverage terms.

“Our roadways are getting more dangerous and the number of fatalities are at historic highs,” Chase said. “And that’s why we’ve been pushing so hard for known solutions to be implemented.”

The panel’s remarks come as a proposed constitutional amendment, backed by Smart & Safe Florida and heavily funded by cannabis retailer Trulieve, aims to permit adults aged 21 and older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products for non-medical use. The measure has received enough signatures to appear on 2024 ballots.

The state, however, led by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is actively fighting against the initiative, arguing that the wording would create confusion by stating that marijuana use would be “allowed” while remaining federally illegal.

Following oral arguments in front of the state Supreme Court, a final decision is expected to be given by April 1st on whether the amendment can be presented to Florida voters, who would need to pass it with a 60 percent majority for it to become law.

A recent poll conducted by the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) found that a majority of Floridians support the measure, with sixty-seven percent of respondents stating that they would vote in favor.

“Unlike previous surveys when we simply asked if folks support or oppose legalization of recreational marijuana, this time we gave respondents the specifics of this proposed amendment,” said PORL faculty director and professor of political science Dr. Michael Binder. “Yet again, it looks like it has a good chance of passing, if the measure makes it through the courts, and that is a very big ‘if’.”


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