Cannabis sales in the United States are expected to hit $100 billion by 2030, and yet dispensary owners still face hurdles before getting up and running, namely obtaining the right insurance coverage. Unlike a coffee shop or clothing store, it can be difficult to secure the insurance coverage needed to satisfy the requirements prescribed by the state and/or commercial leasing agreements.
Yet a simple answer to the dilemma exists. Increasing demand for cannabis business owner policies has prompted some retail insurance brokers to provide convenient turnkey solutions via digital commercial insurance platforms. These platforms circumvent the traditional underwriting process that could trudge on for weeks, allowing cannabis businesses to ramp up operations sooner.
Currently about 30% of insurance customers interact with and purchase from their insurance provider digitally for their business needs. This can be a game changer for a fast-growing cannabis business operator.
What do you need to obtain insurance online?
Obtaining insurance online lets dispensaries secure a complete, holistic insurance policy in one quick pass to cover the industry’s unique risks.
Like any other commercial business package policy, you’ll need to provide details about your business and its operations when harnessing a digital insurance platform.
The first piece of information needed will be proof of licensing with the applicable state or commonwealth where the business operates. This piece is critical since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. In addition, businesses will need to have other basic data on hand before finding coverage online, including:
The legal name of the business
Tax identification number
Annual or monthly sales projections
Number of employees
A Closer Look at Cannabis Coverages
Crime, extreme wealth conditions and legal challenges count among the risks faced by cannabis dispensaries. Here are three essential coverages important for cannabis business owners and operators.
Commercial property insurance.Owned cannabis dispensary properties can face perils such as fire, storms, theft and vandalism. Buildings hold value and need to be repaired or replaced if any adverse events occur. Leased properties may contain equipment and fixtures owned by the business and subject to the very same hazards. Commercial property coverage can help cover the cost of replacing business contents and inventory if damaged through a peril covered by the policy.
General liability insurance. Cannabis retail outlets experience a high volume of foot traffic from customers, vendors and technicians, for example. As such, trips, slips and falls could occur and lead to lawsuits. General liability insurance helps cover legal defense costs should any of these parties seek to recover compensatory damages from accidents and mishaps on the property or occurring elsewhere in a business-related capacity.
Product liability coverage. Issues such as quality control with infused products and concentrates can be a concern for cannabis purveyors. Lawsuits arising from mislabeled or improperly tested products likewise need to be defended by cannabis businesses. Comprehensive product liability coverage can meet the needs of cannabis dispensaries promoting and selling a unique variety of product offerings.
Outside the standard commercial package offering, dispensaries can opt for coverage such as business interruption insurance, which helps pay overhead costs if the operation must temporarily cease due to a covered peril.
Cannabis businesses also often need to retain workers compensation insurance that helps pay for lost time and/or medical bills incurred by employees who become ill or injured on the job. Commercial crime policies help cover losses that may occur on premises or in transit in a cash-centric business.
If cannabis industry owners and managers use an online platform for their insurance needs, they could secure a certificate of insurance in as little as 24-48 hours. HUB’s digital commercial insurance platform, powered by Insureon, is one such direct-to-consumer solution. The platform is ideal for licensed retail cannabis dispensaries in all legal US states.
The cannabis industry is the latest target for cybercriminals. Why? Because many cannabis operations employ less than 100 workers and few are equipped with sophisticated IT systems and knowledgeable on-staff IT personnel, so they are often easier to exploit.
Add the all-cash nature of the business, along with the large amounts of protected health data and personally identifiable information medical dispensaries may store and the industry’s shift toward operational automation to increase yields and lower labor costs and you’ve got an industry that’s extremely vulnerable and a prime target for cyber extortion.
Take the cannabis businesses in Ontario that lost millions after a local distributor was hit by a cyberattack and was incapable to process or deliver orders to local retailers. In another cyberattack, hackers stole $3.6 million that an Australian medicinal cannabis firm intended to send to an overseas contractor.
A still prevalent tactic is for hackers to target workers with email-based phishing scams that enable the installation of malware or ransomware to obtain protected health information to sell or lists of high-profile clients to extort.
While there’s a lot to fear and be on the alert for, there’s also a lot that cannabis businesses can do to both reduce their risk of an attack and proactively protect themselves.
Six hallmarks of a strong cyber-defense program:
Assess the risk. One place to start building a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity is to conduct an appropriate cyber vulnerability or risk assessment of your cannabis business. This exercise can reveal gaps, but it also helps prioritize your effort and develop a vision for your goal state.
Train and test. Train employees on the importance of cybersecurity. Make sure employees undergo phishing training and conduct refresher courses at least annually. Then, test them. Are employees retaining the information shared in training? Send simulated phishing emails and track performance to determine if training hits the mark.
Secure the perimeter. Safeguard your corporate networks and internet connections by encrypting information and using a firewall. If your employees work remotely, consider use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow them to safely connect to your network from out of the office.
Engage protective tools. In addition to using antivirus software and keeping all software updated and patched,multifactor authentication (MFA) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) are crucial for maintaining a secure network. Most carriers require MFA for remote network access, on email, and to protect privileged user accounts. EDR monitoring of devices connecting to the network is also increasingly a minimum requirement for insurance coverage.
Develop a backup strategy. A solid data backup strategy makes companies less susceptible to ransomware attacks by allowing organizations to restore operations. Perform frequent backups — every day if possible — and consider leveraging cloud solutions along with storing backups in an immutable state off-site or off-network.
Build an incident response plan. Cannabis companies should have a plan for responding to an attack, a system for validating what happened and the resources to remediate the issue.
What if a breach occurs?
Even with a great incident response plan in place, the road to recovery from a cyberattack is a complex and rapidly evolving landscape. Should we communicate with the threat actor? Should we pay the ransom demand? How do we capture forensic evidence? What are the laws guiding notification of impacted employees or clients? When an organization has armed itself with a cyber insurance policy, they not only transfer much of their risk, but they often gain access to a carrier panel of specialized response providers that include breach coaches, forensic investigations firms and privacy attorneys.
In addition to leveraging the specialized post-breach expertise offered by carriers, insureds should also consider familiarizing themselves with and leveraging any pre-breach resources provided, which often include no-cost external vulnerability scans, employee awareness training and discounted technical security solutions.
As a business owner, insurance is always a must. If you are interested in entering into the cannabis industry or you already have, it’s important to know what to expect when it comes to insuring your cannabis-related business.
That’s why we’ll be exploring what dispensary insurance is, different options for business owners and general advice regarding dispensary and other CRB insurance.
What is Dispensary Insurance?
Insurance for cannabis-related businesses refers to policies that protect the business against risk. This can include dispensaries, cultivation centers and testing labs – all of which require different levels of coverage and liability.
We spoke to Alexander Marenco, an insurance broker from Marenco Insurance, who explained what dispensary owners should know before seeking out insurance. Marenco says it’s similar to shopping for insurance for other businesess. “You need to have full details of the business and location to receive a quote.” He adds. “The applications will ask questions such as location, renovations, or improvements to the location, ownership information, payroll details, and sales or projected annual sales.”
How is Dispensary Insurance Different From Other Forms of Business Insurance?
Because non-hemp-derived cannabis is still considered a schedule one controlled substance under the Controlled Substance Act, cannabis insurance can be more expensive than regular insurance for non-cannabis businesses. Because of the risks associated with being considered a potential retailer of a controlled substance, liability policies and other options can cost a pretty penny.
Additionally, when asking Marenco about how dispensary insurance differs from other brick-and-mortar retail insurance, he says: “With more states increasingly legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, insurance carriers have started to open risk acceptability. However, since marijuana is still federally illegal, businesses will find it difficult to find multiple quotes from different carriers.”
Types of Insurance Available for Cannabis-Related Businesses
What kind of insurance is available for cannabis-related businesses? Let’s find out.
First off, it’s important to keep in mind that CRBs are at risk for a lot of things: workplace accidents, damage to property, theft, general liability and product liability. Plus, the fact that most dispensaries work on a cash-only business model until the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is approved by Congress, CRBs tend to handle big amounts of cash, further putting them at risk of theft and liability. CRB insurance can be as low as $350 and as high as $7,500 depending on the type of business and policy.
Here are some of the most common types of insurance for CRBs and what they cover:
General liability: third-party claims for bodily injury, property damage and reputational harm.
Commercial property: damage to a business-owned property.
Professional liability: third-party accusations of negligence and mistakes.
Workers’ compensation: employees’ medical bills and lost wages due to injury or illness.
Inland marine: damage or theft of business-owned property in transit.
Crop: costs from damage to seeds and plants.
With so many things to watch out for, insurance for cannabis businesses and dispensaries isn’t cheap. Here, Marenco says what CRB owners can do to keep their premiums as low as possible:
“Premiums are primarily based on sales (actual or projected). After the term expires, the insurance carrier will conduct an audit for the prior term to confirm the information from the application. The audited discrepancy will adjust the next term’s sales figures. Dispensary insurance will typically be placed through an excess & surplus market which do not provide traditional discounts.”
So, in essence, the best thing a dispensary owner can do is be honest about their projections.
Navigating premiums can be a detailed process, as we learned when speaking to Jesse Giffith, an owner of Smokeless CBD and Vape: a chain of retail shops across the twin cities Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota:
“Our shops carry insurance that has been offered with a modified rate for vape retailers. This route was not as straightforward as some traditional retail insurance options, but may offer benefits, and a better fit for coverage than other dispensary insurance options.”
A Growing Number of Dispensaries Across America
With the growing legalization and normalization of adult use, medical and hemp-derived cannabis across the nation, it should come as no surprise that the number of dispensaries across the country grows exponentially.
In 2021, the cannabis market in the U.S. was valued at 10.8 billion dollars, with an expected annual growth of 14.9% annually. This is a sign of what’s to come. Cannabis may be an industry that’s been considered taboo for decades, but the growth shows the growing acceptance of the plant for medical and adult use reasons.
With that growth comes a greater need for insurance providers, opening the door to the possibility that these two industries will grow in tandem. The future may bring a greater variety of options for coverage at cheaper prices. But for the time being, insurance providers remain cautious as the fate of federal and local cannabis laws are still in flux.
Are There Limited Carriers that Issue Dispensary Insurance?
Every CRB needs insurance, just like any other type of establishment, business or company. The issue within the cannabis industry is that there is still a limited insurance market, with insurers willing to provide insurance constantly exiting and entering the market. Plus, the overall capacity and variety of policies that cover different types of risks are limited. Lastly, it can be difficult to use CRB insurance when you read between the lines of the policy. Because cannabis with THC is still federally illegal (excluding hemp-derived cannabis products containing less than 0.3% THC), insurers can negate coverage when a loss or claim occurs.
Because of the complications that may arise even if you do have insurance, Marenco offers some advice for dispensary owners that are searching for the right insurance option for them: “Before shopping for insurance make sure you have all your licenses and are in full compliance with all regulations. Insurance carrier’s requirements from the state. Additionally, consider different coverage options.” He continues. “At a minimum, a business needs general liability insurance. Insurance companies can also consider covering business property including inventory, betterments, and improvements to a rented space, among others. When shopping for insurance make sure your agent reviews different coverage options.”
With an adverse regulatory environment, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and the always-present threat of property damage and product recalls, cannabis operators are fighting an uphill battle to stay viable in today’s environment.
According to Politico, more than 20 of the largest publicly-traded cannabis companies lost about $550 million on revenues of nearly $4.5 billion in the first half of 2022. High taxes and barriers to interstate commerce continue to challenge the industry as well, while lenders and investors are demanding more detailed proof of future profitability. Those pursuing new capital must show how they will grow financially and present their risk management strategy for insuring themselves against losses.
Higher costs for fertilizer, building materials, packaging and more, along with rising inflation are hurting the industry’s bottom line as well, but the industry is hesitant to raise prices.
These challenges are expected to continue in 2023. However, the industry’s fast pace of growth, myriad opportunities for product development and increased access to insurance capacity offers the cannabis industry every reason for optimism.
Prioritize risk strategies
Cannabis facilities face hazards from the very components and systems required to cultivate plants, including high intensity discharge lighting, chemical exposures and butane in oil extractions. As a condition of insuring a property, underwriters are inspecting the equipment used in production and fire suppression systems.
Property policies typically don’t cover out-buildings for cannabis growers located near a hurricane or wildfire zone, and more carriers are limiting or excluding coverage for losses from large-scale natural disasters. Even coverage for crop losses from catastrophic events is limited and often prohibitively expensive.
Cannabis companies are shoring up their risk strategies and analyzing policies to ensure they’re aware of any gaps in coverage and planning how to address them. This includes adding cyber insurance, as cyber also remains a significant loss-driver in the industry.
Beware of new risks
The cannabis industry is introducing products to the market at a breakneck pace, causing new challenges to emerge. New products — such as THC-infused beverages, sugar-free cannabis tarts and cannabinoid-containing baking staples— require additional research and development for extraction, packaging, storage and distribution. And many products require refrigeration and bottling, adding complexity to distribution.
The continued growth of the cannabis edibles and beverages market is also driving companies to create new formulas, products, and strengths. But this innovation does add risk. States issued dozens of recalls in 2022 for marijuana edibles, including mislabeling and mold and salmonella contamination. These incidents have attracted the attention of plaintiffs’ attorneys, who have filed suits on behalf of consumers claiming injury from these mislabeled or contaminated products.
Invest in your staff
Although the number of jobs in the cannabis industry grew 33% between 2021 and 2022, and the need for new workers shows no signs of slowing, cannabis companies are experiencing high turnover rates and a skilled labor shortage. This is forcing operators to spend additional time and money to attract and retain employees.
Personalized benefits programs offer a partial answer. Personalizing benefits to meet individual employee needs results in positive employee experiences, helping build a workplace that attracts and retains workers. Many companies are adding health insurance and offering 401(k) plans, raising wages and adopting other worker-friendly practices to attract and retain workers.
Cannabis companies with solid risk management plans and advisors to help ensure their insurance policies cover exposures, will be well-positioned to overcome industry challenges, grow, and succeed in 2023. Here are four considerations to help develop a tailored strategy that will protect your bottom line, support your workforce, and build resiliency next year.
Be transparent with your broker. Let your broker know what changes you’ve made to the business, so there are no surprises during renewal. Review exposures and insurance needs at least 90 days prior to policy renewal, so your broker can identify the best options.
Prepare for a product recall. The odds of experiencing a product recall are high. Your first line of defense is your internal policies and procedures, and that includes thoroughly vetting your vendors and partners. Be thoughtful about the general liability and product liability coverage you purchase and ask your broker to clearly explain the differences in coverage.
Build resiliency within your company. With more carriers offering specialty coverages for the cannabis industry, now is the time to look at how best to protect your executives and build resiliency by insuring against director and officer liability claims, business interruptions and cyberattacks. Your broker can help identify the best policies for your company.
Establish solid employee benefits. The cannabis industry can have access to the same benefits as other industries, including 401(k) plans. Talk to your broker about taking your benefits program to the next level with highly personalized options that won’t break your budget.
Even amidst the challenges, there is every reason for optimism in the new year because of the industry’s fast pace of growth, myriad opportunities for product development and increased access to insurance capacity.
Despite the US making cannabis regulations challenging to navigate, the industry is snowballing toward profitability. New Jersey legalized adult use cannabis on April 21 this year. One month earlier, The Garden State began accepting applications for Class 5: Retailers, Dispensing and Delivery.
Regardless of what kind of retailer you operate —medical or adult use — it’s critical to know what you’re up against. The following are the most common risks we’ve watched cannabis retailers face daily in New Jersey, making a customized risk management strategy necessary.
Like other retailers, New Jersey cannabis retailers are vulnerable to theft. Unfortunately, theft can come from various angles, such as in-store, in-transit and insider crime. Besides cannabis retailers typically having a well-stocked inventory, it’s not uncommon for them to have more cash on hand than most other businesses.
Although the SAFE Banking Act could positively impact the cannabis industry, it’s in a notorious stall yet again. Briefly, the SAFE Banking Act would no longer allow financial institutions, such as banks and credit card companies, to refuse to do business with cannabis companies. However, cannabis retailers must operate in a cash-only environment, for now, forcing them to make bank runs multiple times a day. We probably don’t have to explain how enticing a significant inventory and fat bank bags look to criminals.
Since the onset of the global health crisis, the cyber liability landscape has nearly spun into a death spiral. In other words, cybercriminals sat on the edge of their seats during the pandemic, waiting to pounce on anything that looked slightly vulnerable. Remote workers, small businesses, and emerging industries were hard-hit.
It’s no surprise that New Jersey cannabis retailers face many cybersecurity risks through their point of sale (POS) systems. Additionally, retailers often gather and store personal information, such as email addresses, credit card numbers, shipping addresses, etc. Hackers and cybercriminals gravitate to this vital data rapidly.
In addition to the risk of theft, as mentioned above, cannabis retailers must protect their property from losses. Without adequate protection, damage to equipment or buildings could add up to high out-of-pocket costs. Consider the damage a weekend office fire or late-night vandalism would cause. If property damage occurs, retailers must figure out how to sustain business operations while recovering from the loss simultaneously. As a result, New Jersey retailers must protect their property and maintain business continuity.
How to Customize a Risk Management Strategy
Watch or listen to any news reports and there’s a decent chance that you’ll feel some slight sense of doom and gloom. And sure, a lot is going wrong in our world; however, that doesn’t need to impact how you perceive your businesses. Instead of casting a massive net over every possible risk that you can imagine, we recommend trying the following 5-step approach. Here’s the gist:
Identify: Pinpoint high-level risks that are specific to the cannabis industry. Then, let the process trickle down to focus on company-specific exposures.
Analyze: Determine how badly a particular risk could harm your retail company. How much will this hurt should the “what-ifs” play out?
Evaluate: Categorize risks according to how risk tolerant your company is. Will you avoid, transfer, mitigate or accept the risk?
Track: Use your history or the stats from a similar retailer to map out how you’ve handled the risk over time. Older retailers have an advantage over younger retailers, of course, but you can still get a feel for your risk management style.
Treat: Make good on your evaluation promises by avoiding, transferring, mitigating, or accepting the various risks you identified.
Recommended Insurance for New Jersey Retailers
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued detailed requirements for new cannabis businesses. That said, part of the application requirements considered is the plan for companies to obtain liability insurance. Many new retailers opted for a “letter of commitment” as opposed to a certificate of insurance (COI), stating their plans for obtaining the following coverages:
Commercial general liability: Protects cannabis companies against basic business risks.
Product liability: Protects against claims alleging your product or service caused injury or damage.
Property: Reimburses cannabis companies for direct property losses.
Workers’ compensation: Covers employees if they are injured on the job and can no longer work.
In addition to the required insurance coverages, we recommend New Jersey retailers customize their risk management package with these policies:
Crime: Protects your cannabis company against specific money theft crimes.
Cyber: Protects your cannabis company against damages from specific electronic activities.
Directors & officers: Protects corporate directors’ and officers’ personal assets if they are sued.
Employment practices liability: Protects cannabis companies against employment-related lawsuits.
Professional liability: Protects cannabis companies against lawsuits of inferior work or service.
With more states in the US entering the marketplace soon, New Jersey is doing its fair share of the heavy lifting by spearheading the onboarding process. Remember, doing your due diligence at the start pays off in the long run — New Jersey retailers are proving that. Consider teaming with a commercial insurance broker calibrated to the cannabis industry, so you get the most out of your broker, marketplace and the cannabis industry as a whole.
The bar-like establishments add a new dimension of potential revenue — and risk — to an industry that is expected to add almost $100 billion to the U.S. economy this year. This new and emerging segment within cannabis isn’t happening in every legal state, but more are starting to enact regulations to provide for some type of on-site consumption.
These new ventures need insurance policies tailored to address the risks of serving cannabis products, which could be looked at similarly to liquor liability for bars and restaurants.
Whether it’s alcohol or cannabis, these products impair people’s judgment, meaning everyone reacts differently to them. But how do you know when to cut someone off?
Cannabis lounges could be held liable & run risk of being sued for overserving
If a cannabis lounge faced a lawsuit alleging that it overserved a patron, leading to a third-party bodily injury, the business’ Commercial General Liability (CGL) Insurance and Products Liability Insurance could potentially cover costs such as legal defense, medical expenses and settlement amounts. Until such a case occurs, it is not yet known how exactly these lawsuits would be covered by insurance.
Because of the short history of cannabis lounges in the U.S., something like this is largely untested, making it hard to speak to exactly how a scenario would play out. Many of the existing cannabis insurance policies are highly exclusionary, meaning it could exclude a loss that is deemed to have arisen out of the use of cannabis.
Recent liquor liability lawsuits have shown the potential for a significant loss is clear. In early April 2022, a $20 million lawsuit was filed against a nightclub in Houston, Texas, alleging it overserved customers and allowed underage drinking, contributing to a drunk driving crash that killed a teenager.
In December 2021, a jury in Texas awarded the family of two drunk driving victims over $301 billion after a lawsuit alleged the driver was overserved at a bar before the accident; though largely symbolic, the settlement marked the largest personal injury award in U.S. history.
With these cannabis lounge establishments more or less encouraging intoxication of patrons on their premises, it’s very similar to a liquor liability type situation. If someone overindulges at a lounge, leaves and causes a crash resulting in injury or death, that could come back to the establishment.
While it remains to be seen how cannabis overserving lawsuits could play out in American courts, it’s worth noting Canada forbids on-site consumption of cannabis products and any loss or damage will not be covered by their insurance policies – despite it being legal country-wide.
Lawsuits possible over product issues, budtender advice
Even cannabis operations that do not allow on-site consumption can face liability related to the products they sell, making Products Liability Insurance and Product Recall Insurance necessary for growers and retailers. They should also consider Employment Practices Liability (EPL) Insurance to cover staffing-related allegations such as discrimination and ask their insurance broker whether budtender liability is included in their CGL Insurance policy.
Budtenders, or individuals who work at cannabis retailers, are not allowed to offer medical advice to consumers. They must walk a fine line between giving advice versus general information on products. Although we are not aware of lawsuits that have been filed over a budtender’s advice, it would ultimately be up to the courts and lawyers as to how those proceedings would play out.
Budtender liability is not very different from professional liability insurance, and it’s more like an incidental coverage based off the budtender’s informal advice. There are, indeed, insurance carrier partners today that offer that service.
CGL Insurance can also cover in-store slip-and-falls and other third-party injuries and property damage. Because most cannabis retail stores are fairly small, these incidents have been rare, but GCL cannot be overlooked. Businesses must be prepared for anything to happen – and need to know that no risk is too small.
Theft, vandalism among top threats to cannabis businesses
Whether or not a cannabis business includes a lounge for cannabis use, any business in this industry may be more vulnerable to certain risks, including theft and vandalism.
In the U.S., where many cannabis companies operate on a cash-only basis because of banking difficulties tied to recreational products being federally illegal, a recent surge in cannabis shop robberies has led to calls for a new banking bill. Some of these incidents have even turned deadly, including an April 30 dispensary robbery in Los Angeles, California, during which one man was reportedly shot and killed.
Large amounts of cash are on-hand daily at these premises, and workers might have to make multiple bank runs throughout the day, leaving a heightened exposure and risk for robberies.
From robberies and vandalism to fires and flooding, Commercial Property Insurance is a key protection for cannabis retailers. Equipment Breakdown Insurance may also be needed, particularly when the stores contain expensive refrigeration equipment. The potential loss is large in this industry, especially at growing facilities, and there’s a lot at stake with such high-value equipment.
Security systems, employee training can help reduce risks
Many insurance carriers require business owners to install alarm systems, video monitoring equipment or safes to help reduce potential property losses, and employees should be trained to use the alarm systems consistently. Policyholders and business owners should also know there is a lot they can do to curb some of the risks, such as businesses doing background checks on every hire and taking steps to ensure they are hiring individuals they can trust.
Installing bars on glass windows and doors is another loss prevention measure that is strongly encouraged because it adds an additional layer of security to get through – it won’t be an easy or quick process to break-in and will trigger the alarm system.
The importance of working with an insurance broker
Working with an insurance broker who is specialized in the cannabis industry can help business owners better explore available coverage options. With cannabis or any type of risk, you should always work with someone who has knowledge and expertise in that area. When you work with someone who knows the ins-and-outs of the regulations, you can have more peace of mind.
Understanding your policy in its entirety is also essential, as these policies have any number of different limitations and exclusionary forms that could preclude you from collecting if you had not understood and followed the language of the policy.
In a transportation situation, for example, you might have a risk warranty that always requires two drivers in that vehicle, or GPS monitoring on the vehicle. In the event of a claim, if the investigation determines the business did not have those items present at the time of loss, that claim will not be covered.
In a rapidly growing and changing industry, business owners should not underestimate the value of working with a team of insurance experts who keep a close pulse on the quickly evolving industry. Brokers are aware of the different legal environments in each state or even each city or county. Cities and counties can add different levels of compliance matters, so as a buyer, you can be confident that you have the most recent information and are in compliance with state law and any insurance requirements that may be present. Being able to explain the differences between the markets and the coverage options is beneficial to any business owner in this ever-changing industry.
Cannabis continues to be a hot sector across the United States; buoyed by its ‘Essential Business’ status during the pandemic, a surge of plant touching and ancillary service providers have set up shop in the past 12 months to capture a share of this burgeoning growth. The cannabis industry is currently the leading job creator in the country, employing almost 430,000 workers according to a recent report from Leafly. Estimates on the overall size of the industry vary depending on the source, but projections of over $100bn in value by 2030 are not uncommon, while M&A activity continues to gather pace after a downturn in 2019. Clearly, investors and the public are bullish on the industry as a segment, with further state legislation to expand the number of adult use and medical markets to come. So why is the directors & officers (D&O) and management liability insurance market not embracing this growth industry?
At its core, a good D&O policy will protect the individual directors, officers and executive teams of companies, including their personal assets, in the event of suits and allegations filed based on their running and oversight of their business. For private companies, this also extends to balance sheet protection and coverage for the entity; for public companies, coverage for securities suits and claims.
The cannabis industry, despite the macro factors propelling its growth, faces numerous challenges when trying to procure D&O insurance. Very few D&O and management liability carriers are willing to entertain cannabis and related risks; even fewer are specialty underwriters willing to provide meaningful, expert coverage which truly addresses the exposures faced by executives and operators in the cannabis industry.
Cannabis D&O premiums can cause sticker shock, typically priced 4 to 10 times higher than non-cannabis businesses. Some operators have an air of invincibility and forego the purchase, believing it is not worth the cost. Meanwhile, the ability to attract and retain talented executives and directors away from other industries typically depends on having this coverage purchased and in place. Yet the outlay can be a burden in an industry which already faces fierce competition for market share, and a disparate tax treatment at a state and federal level.“The value of a D&O policy cannot be overstated.”
Even those carriers and underwriters who do entertain cannabis risks are constantly evaluating the nuances of the space: an ever changing complex state regulatory environment; the relative immaturity of the industry and the hyper-focus on growth; the lack of standardized valuation and accounting; the lack of access to institutional financing; the continued uncertainty of insolvency or restructuring in lieu of federal bankruptcy protections for plant touching companies; the operating inefficiencies for MSOs across state lines and the lack of interstate commerce; in short, the cannabis industry certainly poses its own unique and evolving risks for D&O insurers.
Ultimately the market will continue to evolve for cannabis insureds, as the data matures and the regulatory landscape become clearer. The value of a D&O policy cannot be overstated. Most public companies purchase D&O as a matter of course, but even for private cannabis companies, the right coverage is invaluable. Not having the protection afforded by a D&O policy can be ruinous for a cannabis operator, particularly in a niche area where defending claims and circumstances is complex, time consuming and ultimately expensive – typically much more so than the upfront cost of the D&O policy.
Partnering with the right broker who specializes in both management liability and cannabis is step one to getting the best value coverage. Step two is securing a policy from a dedicated market with underwriters who truly understand the cannabis space and tailor coverage to protect the executives, boards and companies that are driving this exciting growth industry.
Cannabis remains one of the fastest growing industries with no signs of slowing down. According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, the legal cannabis market is poised to grow 20-30% per year to the tune of $50 billion by 2026.With great opportunity comes numerous risks. Claims and lawsuits against cannabis businesses are increasing in frequency and magnitude. As an insurance broker who specializes in the cannabis industry and works with a wide variety of cannabis, hemp and CBD businesses in every state where cannabis laws are established, our recent analysis has unveiled the top five insurances your cannabis business needs in 2022.
General liability is the most essential coverage your business needs to protect you from a variety of claims including personal injury, bodily harm, property damage and other situations that may arise including slander, libel, copyright infringement and more.
Since general liability is not always required to obtain a cannabis license, many businesses are tempted to forgo the expense. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as one single lawsuit has the potential to cripple your business. With a comprehensive, cannabis-specific general liability insurance policy in place, your insurance company, not you, will pay medical expenses and property damage claims from third parties, in addition to hefty legal fees and fines.
Property & Casualty Insurance
If you own a dispensary, grow operation, warehouse, testing facility or any other type of cannabis business with inventory, you need to protect your assets from potential loss or damage. Property & casualty (P&C) insurance safeguards your business against common and costly perils such as a fire, lightning, explosion/implosion, and even less common – but still possible – risks like riots, strikes and terrorism.
P&C insurance not only pays for damages to your business property resulting from a covered loss but it also covers the contents within your place of business, including office furniture, computers, inventory and other assets essential to your business operations. There are policies that will also provide the funds required to keep your business afloat until the damages from the loss are repaired. Any cannabis business with a physical property and location(s) should have a comprehensive property and casualty P&C policy in place.
Product Liability/Product Recall
Recently, we’ve seen a dramatic influx of product liability claims, and in particular, product recalls. Lawsuits have ranged from a single plaintiff seeking damages for personal injuries to class action lawsuits where a defective product is tied to an entire group of claimants.
As a cannabis business owner, you can be sued for any damage resulting from products that cause harm to others, this includes false advertising, mislabeled or defective products. No matter where you are in the supply chain, your business could be held liable. The process of defending litigation or reaching a settlement agreement can completely drain a company’s resources. You’ll have to deal with regulatory compliance, producing and distributing product warnings, recalling products, claim investigation, product testing and additional risk assessment.
Product liability insurance is often overlooked, especially by small to mid-size businesses. However, your cannabis business needs this type of coverage if you sell any goods or products that end up in the hands of the public. In fact, your business may be contractually obligated to have product liability insurance. One such lawsuit is enough to fold a business due to costly legal fees and fines, as well reputation damage beyond repair.
Product liability insurance is designed to protect your cannabis company from claims that can happen anywhere along the supply chain, including product contamination, mislabeled products, false advertising or defective products. With proper coverage, your insurance company will pay for damages and legal expenses if you are sued, up to your policy limits. Your product liability policy will also cover any medical expenses for those who are harmed by your business. Making sure your insurance policy includes product liability insurance should be a top priority in 2022.
Cyber Defense/Data Breach Insurance
Cyber fraud and data breaches are two of the greatest risks facing cannabis companies in 2022. With so much cash pouring into the space, cannabis businesses of all sizes are bulls-eye targets for cybercriminals. Even the smallest of cannabis businesses are at risk of data breaches because they are part of a larger interconnected network of seed to sale vendors. These types of crimes can have detrimental effects on your business in numerous ways. In the case of a data breach resulting in the disclosure of a third party’s private information, the third party could sue your business. The SEC could also find your company negligent in cyber fraud cases and impose significant fines.
By forgoing cyber defense & data breach insurance, your business will be solely responsible for expensive legal bills, significant revenue losses and hefty fines and penalties from regulators. Cyber defense & data breach insurance is a must-have coverage in 2022, and beyond, to protect your business from cybercrimes.
Directors & Officers Insurance
If you are looking to secure venture capital or funding from investors in 2022, and/or attract and retain qualified leadership, you need directors & officers (D&O) Insurance. D&O protects corporate directors and officers, as well as their spouses and estates, from being personally liable in the event your company is sued by investors, employees, vendors, competitors, customers, or other parties, for actual or alleged wrongful acts in managing the company. In the event of litigation, your D&O insurance will cover legal fees, fines, settlements and other expensive costs.
D&O is often the most overlooked coverage because many cannabis businesses are independently run, and no one foresees the potential for operational failures and mismanagement. However, businesses with any sort of vision for growth should make D&O a top priority. It not only protects your current executives and board members but is critical in attracting leading talent in the space, as well as drawing in new investors to scale up your business. In fact, we’re seeing more prospective investors and board members requiring D&O insurance prior to engaging with a company to ensure they are fully protected in the event of litigation.
When it comes to mitigating risk in this business, the stakes are sky high. Cannabis companies that have not incorporated risk management into their business/operational plans will need to in 2022. It all boils down to the THREE P’s: being “Proactive, Prepared and Protected.”
Cannabis risks have always outpaced the availability of insurance, in large part because of its status as a federally illegal substance and the dangers in extraction and production. But it now shares many of the same risks as other industries — catastrophic crop damage, cyber risk and a shortage of skilled workers.
With legalization becoming more common, the industry is positioned for enormous growth despite these challenges. However, enterprises that will benefit the most are those best positioned to manage risk.
Here are four obstacles to growth in the industry in 2022 and how enterprises can combat them:
Cybercrime will be the top manufacturing risk
Both cybercrime and cannabis have experienced major booms since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannabis companies watched as healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations were hit hard by cybercriminals in 2020, and now the threat could be headed their way.
For cannabis retailers, the vulnerability lies in their dependence on point-of-sale tech, while the threat for cultivators exists within their strong use of intelligent automation to manage the grow environment. Across the industry, the lack of sophisticated IT security systems is like a beacon for bad actors.
Nearly 60% of cannabis businesses say they haven’t taken the necessary steps to prevent cyberattack, but the winds are changing. Due to these concerns and the growing attention on cybercrime in the industry, cyber coverage is expected to rise 30% or more in 2022, which puts the onus on risk management practices that will help prevent cyberattacks and ensure coverage from insurers concerned about risk.
Barriers to business growth may result in more M&A
As of summer 2021, 18 U.S. states have legalized adult use and 37 states have legalized medical cannabis.
While this is opening opportunities for many cannabis businesses, the U.S. remains a complicated market. Federal regulations continue to hinder even more cannabis industry growth by restricting lending to the industry from traditional banking and financial institutions. While it’s not illegal to do service with the cannabis industry, many institutions stay away due to its high risk.
Smaller cannabis companies are impacted most heavily by this barrier and await passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking and Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Acts to allow easier access to capital. Together, these two acts of legislation will provide guidelines on how to work lawfully with legal cannabis businesses and prohibit penalizing or discouraging institutions from working with them.
In the meantime, M&A activity is expected to increase in 2022 as large cannabis businesses have the means to access capital and acquire these small companies. This includes Canadian cannabis companies, unburdened by federal restrictions, who are expected to increase their cross-border mergers and acquisitions.
Severe weather isn’t easing up
Extreme natural catastrophes are no longer rare, and they have only added greater uncertainty to the industry which has always had difficulties securing crop insurance.
For example, policies that transfer wind and hurricane damage risk in Florida or wildfire and smoke taint in California are virtually non-existent for cannabis — and for outdoor growers, a single weather event can wipe out an entire crop with no recourse.
One possible solution for cannabis companies that cannot secure traditional crop insurance is parametric insurance, which pays out in full when a weather element reaches a threshold, regardless of the actual damage.
Growers with indoor operations, or those considering moving that way, must cope with energy conservation initiatives. Measures like the one in California that would require indoor growers to use LED lighting by 2023 could cost the industry millions and present a direct threat to small operations’ viability. This makes it important for cannabis producers to institute conservation measures and undertake risk mitigation measures like improved safety measures at indoor growth facilities ahead of 2022 renewals.
As a continually emerging market, cannabis risks are great. Adding to these pressures is the growing impacts of climate change and cybercrime raising the bar even further. Growth for the cannabis industry in 2022 will depend upon strong risk management solutions and the ability for cannabis companies to implement them.
HUB International, a leading insurance brokerage serving the cannabis industry, just announced today their new U.S. cannabis specialty leader. Bradley Rutt, senior vice president at HUB and Cannabis Industry Journal contributor, will now take the lead on cannabis insurance for the brokerage.
Rutt will work alongside Jay Virdi, another frequent CIJ contributor and chief sales officer of cannabis specialty at HUB to support the practice strategy on a national level. Rutt’s role will put him in charge of expanding HUB’s growth in the cannabis space as well as “enhancing cannabis insurance solutions and risk services, further developing cutting-edge resources for clients to support their needs, and attracting and retaining talent to deepen knowledge and expertise to help cannabis clients thrive.”
Rutt’s role as senior vice president has been to specialize in cannabis executive liability, working with public and private management services organizations to develop insurance and risk management programs. “Brad is an industry leader, and his diverse experience and deep understanding of the cannabis industry to insure its unique risks will play a critical role in continuing to strengthen our practice,” says Jay Virdi. “More importantly, we continue our commitment as trusted advisors to our clients to provide them with relevant support and solutions to help them continue to grow.”
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