Canadian Underwriter

Are cannabis edibles a “drug”? What adjusters should be asking

February 22, 2019   by Jason Contant

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Claims adjusters’ questions should address potential policy wording dilemmas related to the upcoming legalization of cannabis edibles later this year, a lawyer told Canadian Underwriter recently.

For example, consider the following question in the context of edible cannabis (or even recreational smoked marijuana): “In the past 24 hours, have you consumed any drugs, alcohol or medication?”

“I think a lot of people would argue that cannabis doesn’t fall into any of these categories because it’s not alcohol,” said Erika Carrasco, a partner at Field Law in Calgary, “When you say the word drug, they say, ‘No it’s legal now, it can’t be a drug.’ And then you say medication, and they’re like: ‘Nope, I wasn’t taking it for medication.’”

Carrasco spoke to Canadian Underwriter earlier this month about cannabis and insurance coverage issues. In late January, she was one of the presenters from Field Law at the Insurance Institute of Canada’s Impact of Cannabis on the Insurance Industry seminar.

“We are going to have to be mindful of whether the normal inquiries at a claims level are going to cover off some of these issues,” she said in reference to the question regarding drug, alcohol or medication consumption. “We might have to have specific questions: ‘Do you regularly use cannabis? How often do you use it? In what format? Where do you purchase it from? What strains do you use?’ Much more detailed questioning might occur depending on if there’s a chance that the person or a party could have been impaired by cannabis use.”

The issue of an “intoxicating substance” was debated in a Supreme Court of British Columbia ruling from September 2015. In Venkataya v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, the insurer denied coverage for total vehicle loss following a single-vehicle accident on the basis that the claimant willfully provided a false statement “that he had not taken any drugs or alcohol in the 12 hours preceding the accident.”

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith ruled against ICBC. He found the evidence did not show the driver was incapable of operating his vehicle as a result of having consumed “a drug or intoxicating substance,” in this case a traditional Fijian root drink called Kava. The driver, Mohammed Venkataya, also did not willfully try to mislead the insurer when he told an adjuster that he did not take “any drugs, prescription or otherwise, in the 12 hours preceding the accident.”

In the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 2008, Venkataya was driving home in Surrey-Delta, B.C. after having consumed one bowl of Kava when he crashed into the wall of a restaurant. Venkataya testified he had no recollection of what happened before hitting the restaurant, but responding officers said he “had difficulty standing and walking, that he was unable to speak clearly or to construct sentences, or to understand what was being said to him, at least initially.” He took a breathalyzer test, which showed a blood alcohol reading of zero.

Days afterwards, Venkataya went to see his family doctors saying he “blacked out.” Various medical tests came back with normal results.

ICBC argued Venkataya “breached” a condition of his insurance by “operating a vehicle while the insured is under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug or other intoxicating substance to such an extent that he is incapable of proper control of the vehicle,” contrary to section 55(1.1)(8)(a) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation. The insurer bore the onus of proof to show Kava was an intoxicating substance.

Justice Voith said this was not proven. “There has been very little study on the extent to which, if at all, elevated levels of Kava consumption can impair the movements or faculties of an individual,” he wrote. In fact, Justice Voith said, ICBC’s lawyer conceded “there is no record or report of there having ever been a prosecution for impaired driving as a result of Kava consumption, successful or otherwise, in Canada.” And, Venkataya went to his doctor within days of the accident. “Such conduct is inconsistent with an individual who knows he has consumed excessive amounts of an intoxicating substance.”

The court ordered the replacement costs of Venkataya’s vehicle.

“I recognize that both the events surrounding the accident and Mr. Venkataya’s conduct in relation to those events are highly unusual and without any ready explanation,” Justice Voith wrote. “The burden lies on [ICBC], however, to establish that Mr. Vekataya was incapable of operating a motor vehicle as a result of his having consumed ‘a drug or intoxicating substance.’ The whole of the evidence does not, on a balance of probabilities, satisfy the burden.”

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2 Comments » for Are cannabis edibles a “drug”? What adjusters should be asking
  1. Edibles demonstrates the limitations of pursuing a cannabis breathalyzer or saliva testing. Real impairment needs to be measured. No one should drive impaired, but actual impairment should be measured, and the level of impairment from cannabis that is criminalized should be the same as the level of impairment for the blood alcohol limit. I have developed a new public health app that is an objective measure of impairment from cannabis or any source–anything that impairs reaction time, hand-eye coordination, balance and the ability to perform divided attention tasks–it is called DRUID (an acronym for “DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs”) available now in the App Store and in Google Play. DRUID statistically integrates hundreds of data points into an overall impairment score and takes just 2 minutes.

    Please see:

    DRUID was featured on the PBS News Hour ( and in Wired magazine: Cannabis researchers at Yale, Johns Hopkins, WSU and UC Boulder are using DRUID in their labs. After legalization in California, NORML of California added a link to DRUID on their website and encouraged cannabis users to download it. DRUID is the Gold Standard for Impairment Assessment. This recent report from the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College lists DRUID as the only objective measure of impairment for the roadside: This recent report from the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College lists DRUID as the only objective measure of impairment for the roadside: Our website is

    DRUID allows cannabis users (or others who drink alcohol, use prescription drugs, etc.) to self-assess their own level of impairment and (hopefully) decide against driving if they are impaired. Prior to DRUID, there was no way for an individual to accurately assess their own level of impairment.

    After obtaining my Ph.D. at Harvard, I have been a professor of psychology at UMass/Boston for the past 40 years, specializing in research methods, measurement and statistics.

    Michael Milburn, Professor (retired)
    Department of Psychology

    “ If we want to get serious about measuring impairment we will need to move to devices that gauge impairment by testing cognitive and physical functionality, along the lines of the DRUID app”
    Ian Mitchell–Ian Mitchell is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of British Columbia. He is the qualified investigator for a randomized controlled trail of vaporized cannabis for PTSD and a contributing editor for the Using Medical Cannabis journal. Follow him on LinkedIn or on Twitter @travels2little.

  2. James says:

    I agree. Cannabis is not like other drugs. You have to ask how much the person is consuming and how often do they do it. That’s the only way to know if the person would get impaired by using it.

    In my opinion, there is no general dosage out there that can be decided upon that should be the upper limit because different people respond to cannabis in different ways. And in most cases the individuals that consume an exorbitant amount of cannabis do not experience any permanent side effects.

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