Health Canada wants to end medical cannabis

Canadian insurance companies and banks are warming up to cannabis

A big sign of the changing public perceptions of cannabis can be seen in the evolving positions of traditionally conservative industries like insurance and finance. As we inch closer and closer to legalization cannabis will only become increasingly accepted, and before more banks and insurance companies jump in, let’s take a look at some of the first to do it.

Sun Life Financial, Loblaws, and student unions offer medical cannabis insurance

Sun Life Financial, one of Canada’s biggest insurance companies, will cover up to $6000 in medical cannabis starting March 1, 2018.  

This is a continuing trend, as the president of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana told CTV News, “A number of plan sponsors have moved to cover medical cannabis costs over the years, including the University of Waterloo’s student union, the Arthritis Society, [and] Loblaw Companies Ltd.”

Loblaw’s is one of Canada’s biggest grocers, with over 2000 stores across Canada, and 45,000 employees who are now eligible for medical cannabis coverage. It owns Shopper’s Drug Mart, CityMarket, No Frills, and Superstore, among many others, and it already applied to sell medical cannabis through Shopper’s Drug Mart back in October 2016, which is still awaiting approval from Health Canada. In December 2017, Loblaws signed a 5 year deal with Aphria Inc., a licensed producer, to supply them with cannabis in anticipation of being approved, although that is not set in stone yet.

There are two universities currently offering students coverage for medical cannabis. The University of Waterloo was the first to do it in December 2014, and UBC Okanagan will be the second when their one-year pilot project for medical cannabis coverage launches in mid-April.

Dr. Walsh, the associate professor of psychology who’s leading the UBCO project, told CVP, “Our goal is to try to examine changes in the use of other medications covered by the health plan and see if we see reductions in the use of other prescription medications. If it’s something that’s going to save insurers money, then I think we’ll see a pretty quick uptake on it,”

Big banks are jumping in

In late January 2018, Bank of Montreal became the first of Canada’s big banks to wade into the cannabis sector with a $175 million equity financing deal with Canopy Growth Corp. This was a giant leap and the first for a major Canadian bank as many have been wary of entering the cannabis sector because of their business ties in the USA.

Some banks find the cannabis industry too risky because of the Trump Administration’s hardline anti-cannabis position and the fact that it’s still illegal at the federal level.

But that hasn’t stopped dozens of cannabis businesses from opening accounts with BMO, and TD Bank has accounts with at least 9 canna-businesses, according to Bloomberg. Royal Bank of Canada told the Financial Post that it “currently does not provide banking services to companies engaged in the production and distribution of marijuana”, and neither does ScotiaBank.

Credit unions have also stepped in to serve cannabis businesses, such as Alterna Savings and Credit Union, which counts two of Canada’s largest LP’s among their clients.



CBC: Aphria set to be Shoppers Drug Mart’s cannabis supplier with new agreement

CBC: BMO pot financing marks policy shift for Canadian banks.

Columbia Valley Pioneer: UBCO students to get medical cannabis coverage

CTV News: Sun Life Financial to add medical pot option to group benefits plans.

Financial Post: BMO marks first foray by a major Canadian bank in marijuana sector with $175M deal.