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Pot in Canada: the next tobacco liability exposure for insurers?

October 5, 2018  

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Marijuana could cause mental illness among youth and government needs to find ways of preventing teens from using it, an Ontario politician said Tuesday.

“There are many young people who had their lives turned upside down, and families turned upside down, as a result of the use of pot,” Gilles Bisson, opposition house leader and New Democratic Party MPP for Timmins, told the legislature during debate on Bill 36.

The concerns politicians are expressing today about the health effects of marijuana use will no doubt remind insurers about the analogous liability risks associated with tobacco use. The long-term health effects of tobacco have created significant exposures for tobacco companies and their insurers, with class action lawsuits costing the tobacco industry billions. For example, the Ontario government is seeking $50 billion in damages in a lawsuit against cigarette makers it launched in 2009.

Marijuana leaves, cannabis on a dark backgroundBill 36 in Ontario proposes several measures including prohibiting cannabis use in vehicles and boats. It would also prohibit people from consuming cannabis in an “enclosed workplace,” which includes a building, construction site trailer, loading dock or delivery truck, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said.

Bisson told the legislature Tuesday that his sister, who died when she was in her early 60s, started using marijuana in her late teens and also developed schizophrenia around the same time.

“She swore until the day she died that her schizophrenia was actually triggered by the pot,” Bisson said of his late sister. He is hoping that Bill 36 will “deal with keeping, as much as we can, pot away from young people triggering diseases such as schizophrenia.”

A federal bill easing the criminal code restrictions on recreational cannabis possession and cultivation takes effect Oct. 17. At that point, the only legal way of buying recreational cannabis in Ontario will be online through Cannabis Retail Corp., Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said Monday at Queen’s Park.

“That will remain until Apr. 1, when we will see the opening of private retail stores throughout the province,” Mulroney said.

Bars can be sued by accident victims if an intoxicated person is over-served.

Whether a retailer selling cannabis or alcohol could be sued is “a question of foreseeability,” Ari Krajden, partner with co-chair of the coverage practice group at law firm Zarek Taylor Grossman Hanrahan LLP, said in published remarks earlier. Retailers’ workers will probably have to complete training similar to Smart Serve, which is a prerequisite to sell alcohol in Ontario.

Initially, only dried cannabis – rather than edibles – will be legal Canada-wide.

In Ontario, restrictions on where people can smoke cannabis will be the same as existing restrictions under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act. This includes common areas of workplaces, including washrooms, lobbies and parking garages, Fedeli said.

Bisson is calling for more effort on preventing young people from taking up cannabis.

“We really need to take a look at what can we do, not just by way of restrictions, but by way of programs that help young people understand that utilizing pot could lead to quite traumatic experiences in their lives, as it did with my sister. That’s one of the things that I think this legislature has to look into.”

Debate on second reading continued Tuesday. Once Bill 36 passes second reading it will be the subject of committee hearings and could be amended before it is passed into law.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.

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