Reefer Madness

Corporate America, say hello to your new partner, NORML

Question: What does a Texas small-business owner have in common with a former associate attorney general, friend of Bill – and convicted, then pardoned, felon – Webster Hubbell? Answer: The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and life insurance.

To hear NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre tell it, the story of Hubbell, NORML, and one of its Texas members goes like this: About a year ago, a Texas NORML member called up the organization's Washington, D.C., office with a problem. He was ready to expand his small business, but the bank – in order to secure additional funds – was requiring that he up his life insurance. This is pretty standard, sure, but the small-business owner is also a casual pot smoker and, as such, wouldn't be able to pee in a cup and come out clean, so, ultimately, his carrier told him that he would be uninsurable unless he gave up toking.

This was not an option for our man from Texas, so he called NORML, and NORML rang up its insurer, Webster Hubbell, who, since leaving politics, has gotten into the risk racket, working with the D.C.-based McLaughlin Co. Ultimately, the Texan secured his additional life insurance through Hubbell – via colleague Marvin Address, who is working as the pot-smoker insurance broker – and, according to an audio clip of Hubbell posted to the NORML Web site, he was actually able to lower the premiums on the other policies our small-business owner was already holding. That success was enough to convince NORML and Hubbell to pursue the matter further, and some six or so months later – after crunching numbers and pouring over actuarial tables – Hubbell and NORML convinced two underwriters to take on the job of writing affordable life-insurance policies for any responsible, "moderate" pot smoker. The plan, says St. Pierre, is to "stop the denial of people getting coverage because it is so profoundly unfair." At least, he said, casual pot smokers shouldn't have to pay more for insurance than a tobacco user. (Indeed, St. Pierre said that one of the underwriters – whose name he declined to reveal – will write life insurance for a pot smoker at a lower rate than for a tobacco smoker.)

St. Pierre notes that there's a growing need for affordable life insurance for pot smokers: While the feds may still consider pot the evil weed, 12 states have decriminalized it, and 11 have enacted laws legalizing and/or protecting medi-pot smokers. NORML will be looking to "make the market" this year – that is, to sign up enough tokers for the new life-insurance plan to prove there is, indeed, an underserved population off which insurers can make money. If that happens – St. Pierre says it'll take writing between 200 and 400 policies this year to establish the market – NORML, with partner Hubbell, will actually be able to expand into the disability and health-insurance markets.

"NORML uniquely supports cannabis consumers," Hubbell says in his audio pitch. And the "time is right to make traditional insurance products available" to pot smokers, he says. "Help NORML, and help yourself."

But wait! There's more! As if getting into the life-insurance game weren't mainstream enough, NORML also announced last month that it has teamed up with software designer Jian to offer a model corporate human-resources policy that covers off-the-clock marijuana use. The policy – an "enlightened" employee marijuana policy – recommends that employers treat after-hours pot use in the same way as after-hours alcohol use. Jian, which sells software packages for small businesses, will add the new pot policy to its Employee Manual Builder program, which is designed for use by company human-resource managers to aid in writing employee manuals. The policy (available at www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=7161) discourages random drug testing, which may detect traces of marijuana days after use, and says employees "are free to make their own lifestyle choices when not in the workplace or otherwise on company time," but it also prohibits on-the-job intoxication or consumption of "alcohol or other intoxicants." Indeed, says St. Pierre, traditional zero-tolerance employee marijuana policies have done nothing to differentiate between use and abuse. "We're making a distinction between out-of-workplace use" and at-work use, he said, in an attempt to get away from the idea "that moderate [pot] use on a Saturday is somehow dangerous [at work] on a Monday. There's just no evidence of that."

As with NORML's life-insurance endeavors, the time is right to rethink corporate policy on pot use, especially in light of the growing number of medi-pot patients who use marijuana in compliance with state laws. The new policy, St. Pierre says, "is reflective of evolving medical-marijuana laws" and is part of a move to "create policies that are general, and not ephemeral, and that speak to the needs of people living within prohibition."


To find out more about NORML-Hubbell life insurance, contact Hubbell at info@mclaughlin-online.com, or call 202/293-5566.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

NORML, Reefer Madness, Webster Hubbell, Allen St. Pierre, Jian, life insurance, marijuana

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