B.C. woman claims discrimination after home insurance denied over medical marijuana

Growing flowers of cannabis intended for the medical marijuana market are shown at OrganiGram in Moncton, N.B., April 14, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward

A Clearwater woman denied home insurance over claims she has a medical marijuana “grow-op” has lodged a BC Human Rights complaint against Canadian Northern Shield and Interior Savings, saying they had discriminated against her in the provision of a service on the basis of mental disability.

Lorelei Rogers was licensed to purchase medical marijuana in 2017 to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other disabilities, due to a workplace injury. However, she found it too expensive and the supply unreliable, and opted to grow her own and obtained a license to grow up to 49 marijuana plants in 2018.

She purchased additional equipment, such as grow lights and security cameras, and began to grow her own plants in a shed in her backyard. She also rented out part of her home as an Airbnb.

However, Canadian Northern Shield Insurance Company, which had insured her home since 2013, declined to renew her home insurance in 2019 as it deemed the risk ineligible because of the presence of the medical marijuana “grow op” and the Airbnb.

Rogers alleged that she is being discriminated against based on her disability. The situation has led her to stop growing the plants and shutting down the Airbnb because a lack of home insurance meant she could lose her home.She also claims that in an attempt to obtain some form of home insurance, she asked Interior Savings to reach out to other companies.

Rogers alleges she was denied by insurers because Interior Savings misrepresented her to other providers by noting her home was a “grow op,” despite she was no longer operating the Airbnb or growing medical marijuana plants.

She has since found insurance through Intact, which allows her to grow up to four medical marijuana plants, although she said this is not nearly enough to support her medication needs. As a result, the “consequences of her disabilities are more pronounced, her quality of life significantly diminished, and the stress from wondering how she will take care of herself without being able to grow her medication is catastrophic,” she said.

Both Canadian Northern Shield Insurance Company and Interior Savings deny any discrimination and stated the decision was not related to a disability.

Interior Savings said it made efforts to find alternative insurance for Ms. Rogers, including approaching insurance companies that specialize in placing coverage for “unusual and hard‐to‐place risks.” However, “none of them would discuss the possibility of covering a risk with a medical marijuana growing exposure.”

The insurance companies had sought to dismiss the complaint but Tribunal member Jessica Derynck on July 29 dismissed the pretrial’s application.

“I find Ms. Rogers has done more in her complaint and in response to the application than provide evidence supporting her claim that she has a disability and that she was not able to renew her insurance,” Derynck said. “If her evidence is proven at hearing, Ms. Rogers could demonstrate that Canadian Northern Shield’s neutral policy against insuring properties where medical marijuana is grown had a disproportionate adverse impact on her, in her particular circumstances, due to her disability.

“Her evidence that growing her own medical marijuana improved her condition, and the barrier to continuing to do so has had a significant adverse effect on her disability, goes beyond conjecture.”

Derynck noted Interior Savings didn’t make a request for dismissal under the Human Rights Code, but requested the application be dismissed as they are a broker of insurance and do not approve or decline policies made by those providers. In her decision, she added she could not dismiss the complaint as they failed to provided a reason to do so under the Code “which include preventing discrimination and providing a means of redress for individuals who experience discrimination,” to which Rogers alleges they denied to do.

A date for a hearing has yet to be determined.

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