A Hamiota woman who grows marijuana to control chronic migraines says her house insurance is being cancelled — and her case could be just the tip of the iceberg.
"Two weeks from today, I could theoretically be homeless, and it’s terrifying," said Laurel Roberts, who grows 20 plants in her basement — 16 more than Wawanesa Insurance will allow.
She said without homeowners insurance, she could be at risk of also losing her mortgage.
Rick Macl, owner of Growers N’ Smokers in Brandon, said there are potentially "hundreds of thousands" of Canadians who have Health Canada permits to grow medical marijuana at home and could lose their insurance because they exceed the four-plant limit set out by many insurance companies.
Macl said the four-plant limit by insurance companies refers to what is legally allowed for recreational use in some regions and ignores medical marijuana users.
"Insurance companies are basically pretending like medical cannabis was never legalized a decade ago," he said, adding that for every gram of cannabis prescribed — the minimum — a person is allowed to grow five plants under Health Canada’s rules.
"Basically, the one-gram grow permit does not exist," he said. "It’s a waste of time. Everybody grows more than that."
David Hultin, a senior communications specialist with Wawanesa Insurance, said in an email the company does not comment on the specifics of a particular file.
However, he said, in Manitoba, Wawanesa will typically insure personal property containing up to four cannabis plants if legally grown for medical and/or recreational purposes.
"As the potential for fire, theft, humidity and liability claims on home policies increases with additional cannabis plants, Wawanesa does not insure properties that go beyond this amount," Hultin said.
"We encourage anyone seeking insurance coverage to speak with an insurance broker to understand the increased exposure and hazards associated with growing cannabis plants in a personal dwelling, and to discuss the insurance options available to them specific to their unique needs."
A provincial spokeswoman said growing non-medical, or recreational, cannabis at home is prohibited in Manitoba. The provincial government does not regulate medical cannabis, she said. That falls under Health Canada.
Roberts has suffered from dibilitating migraines since she was a teenager and as an adult has even been forced to go on total disability because of it.
A doctor finally recommended trying cannabis, she said, and so she started the grow-up in her home in January.
The full-time health-care aide said it has worked wonders for her.
Roberts said her troubles started when she checked with her insurance broker after reading about an Alberta person who lost their insurance because they had a grow-op in their home.
She said the broker contacted Wawanesa, who then informed Roberts they would be cancelling her insurance in two weeks. That was on Monday.
"At which time I’m starting into panic mode," she said.
Roberts said it cost her about $2,200 in equipment, wiring and licensing costs to start up the small grow-op.
"I would have never invested that kind of money for four plants," she said, adding she needs far more than that to produce the four grams of cannabis per day she is prescribed by her doctor.
Roberts said she is authorized by a Health Canada permit to grow up to 20 plants.
She is now investigating through her insurance broker if any other company will allow more than four plants, adding Wawanesa said Friday they would cancel her insurance regardless of the amount of plants she has.
Roberts added if she has to give up the cannabis, she could end up back on disability and a drain once again on the system.
As it is now, she said, "I’m a productive member of society."
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