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Life insurance premiums could go up because of pot-infused edibles

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Canadians looking to enjoy soon-to-be-legalized pot-infused edibles could get hit with higher insurance premiums – depending on the size of their appetite.

Many insurers no longer treat cannabis users as cigarette smokers – who pay much higher premiums due to the high-risk activity – provided there is no tobacco or nicotine in the products they use.

The shift came in recent years as Canada moved to legalize cannabis for recreational use, starting with dried flower, oils, plants and seeds.

However, to avoid paying more, cannabis usage must stay below a set number each week and many insurers count any kind of pot, whether it is smoked or sipped or chewed.

The threshold ranges from two to four cannabis usages each week, depending on the insurer, said Lorne Marr, LSM Insurance’s director of new business development.

“More than four, then you would still be treated as a non-smoker with most companies, but there would be an extra rating or extra premium attached to that marijuana use,” he said. “And most companies treat the edibles as similar to smoking.”

But the approach among insurers varies, with some allowing for unlimited edibles consumption and others deeming a client a smoker after more than four weekly pot usages.

“You definitely want to shop around, because there could be a big difference,” Mr. Marr said.

Cannabis-infused foods, beverages as well as topicals such as lotions containing cannabidiol – known as CBD, the non-intoxicating compound found in pot – are set to hit retail shelves as early as mid-December.

Earlier this month, Ottawa said the legislation regulating these new, next-generation cannabis products will come into force on Oct. 17. In turn, because of regulatory requirements, the earliest they can go on sales is 60 days later.

Companies are expecting brisk demand for these products as they appeal to a broader base of consumers, including those who don’t want to smoke.

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association said cannabis consumption, for either recreational or medical use, will be taken into account when assessing risk and premiums.

“However, our members are continuing to assess the risks of any form of cannabis and will make adjustments to the risk profile as cannabis becomes more prominent in the market and more evidence of health impacts are known,” a spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

Manulife Financial Corp. said it reviewed its underwriting around cannabis use in 2016 and currently, any users who do not use any nicotine products or e-cigarettes will be classified as non-smokers.

The insurer’s individual insurance products are available to both recreational or medical cannabis users, but factors affecting the rates include the amounts used, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

“The information about quantity used is proprietary, most recreational users are issued standard premium rates … Edibles are currently considered the same as all other forms of consumption,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Canada Protection Plan, which offers no-medical-and-simplified-issue life insurance, said if a client smokes cannabis more than four times a week, including vaping, they are categorized as a smoker.

Consumption of cannabis, in any form, more than four times a week would also mean they are ineligible for certain plans, a spokeswoman for the insurer said in an e-mailed statement.

The impact is significant, as those with smoker status pay as much as two or three times more in premiums, Mr. Marr said.

While most insurers limit weekly consumption of cannabis, few stipulate how much can be consumed in one sitting, he added.

“You could have a huge brownie or a little brownie,” he said. “Or you could have one of those Cheech-and-Chong joints or a little tiny joint … That part hasn’t been properly clarified yet.”

As well, it is unclear how topicals, such as a CBD-infused lotion for joint pain, will be treated.

Manulife said it is an “evolving issue” and it will evaluate specifics as legalization of these new products occurs.

“Based on the research we’ve completed to date, we’re not anticipating any major changes in our approach to underwriting cannabis once it becomes available in other formats.”

Insurance companies will not be monitoring what you are eating while sitting on your couch on a Friday night, but will be basing their assessments on how you answer a series of questions in their initial application forms.

It may be tempting to play down your cannabis usage, but it is important to be transparent, said David Share, a lawyer who specializes in insurance claims.

“Disclosure is very, very important on these applications to be accurate … Insurance companies will look under every rock to find some way to not pay,” he said.

And if there is undisclosed pot usage that shows up in a doctor’s notes or medical history, that could void the insurance, he warned.

“If you’re concerned about the cost of life insurance … then the guidance is to limit your use to moderate use.”

Cannabis edibles will soon be legal in Canada but because insurance companies treat these new pot products the same as smoking a joint, your life insurance premiums may take a hit as a result.

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CannTrust cannabis sales licence suspended

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CannTrust Holdings Inc.’s licence to produce and sell legal and medical cannabis in Canada was suspended by federal regulators on Tuesday, the latest blow to the beleaguered pot firm after an inspection uncovered that it grew thousands of kilograms of marijuana in unlicensed rooms.

CannTrust said in a statement that it received notice from Health Canada earlier Tuesday morning that it won’t be able to sell and produce cannabis, other than cultivating and harvesting existing plants.

“While the suspension remains in effect, CannTrust will be permitted to cultivate and harvest existing lots or batches previously propagated, as well as conducting ancillary activities to those lots, including drying, trimming and milling. During the suspension, CannTrust may not propagate new lots or batches of cannabis or engage in the sale or distribution of cannabis,” the company said in a statement.

CannTrust added the notice from Health Canada states the regulator could reinstate its licences “if the reasons for the suspension no longer exist or if CannTrust demonstrates that the suspension was unfounded.” The Vaughan, Ont.-based company said its management and board are reviewing the notice with its counsel and other advisors.

CannTrust said federal regulators listed several measures that the firm could implement, which would address the various public health and safety risks that contributed to Health Canada’s partial suspension.

Those measures include controlling the cannabis that comes in and out of the company’s facilities, ensuring that marijuana will be produced and distributed in authorized areas, recovering pot that was grown in unauthorized areas, improving employees’ knowledge and compliance with the law, and developing better record-keeping and inventory tracking.

CannTrust has been in a state of turmoil since July 8 when it revealed it had breached Canadian regulations by growing marijuana in unlicensed areas of its Pelham, Ont.-based facility.

As a result of that infraction, Health Canada seized nearly 5,200 kilograms of dried cannabis and the company instituted a voluntary hold on approximately 7,500 kg at another facility.

The pot firm has also fired CEO Peter Aceto with cause, demanded the resignation of chairman Eric Paul and formed a special committee tasked with probing the regulatory scandal. CannTrust also hired Greenhill & Co. as a financial advisor to explore a sale of the company, strategic investment or a business combination.

In August, CannTrust said Health Canada found that its Vaughan, Ont. manufacturing facility was non-compliant as well. CannTrust also disclosed last month that the Ontario Securities Commission’s Joint Serious Offences Team had opened an investigation into “matters and parties” related to the company.

Earlier this month, BNN Bloomberg reported that some CannTrust staff late last year brought cannabis seeds from the black market into production rooms, leading to some illicitly-grown pot flowing into the legal market.

CannTrust now joins a handful of Canadian cannabis producers which have had their ability to grow and sell legal cannabis suspended by Health Canada, the federal regulator in charge of enforcing and licensing pot in the country.

Last week, British Columbia-based Evergreen Medicinal Supply Inc.’s licence was suspended due to issues relating to its production practices, record-keeping, inventory control, and adherence to licence controls. In February, Bonify Holdings Corp.’s licences were suspended after the company was found to be selling marijuana it obtained from illicit sources.

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Crisis in B.C. forestry industry

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VANCOUVER — High log prices and dwindling timber supply are driving the crisis in British Columbia‘s forestry industry that has devastated communities and kneecapped the provincial economy, observers say.

Companies have announced shutdowns or curtailments in more than two dozen mills in the province, putting hundreds out of work and slashing economic growth predictions. Advocates are calling for urgent government action to stem the bleeding.

“Something needs to change immediately or these small communities that don’t have other employers are going to wither and die,” said Marty Gibbons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-417, based in Kamloops, B.C.

The local represents hundreds of forestry workers who have lost jobs in Interior communities including Merritt, Clearwater, Vavenby and Clinton.

The largest driving factor is the province’s complex stumpage system that results in high fees, he said.

“These are private businesses. If they can’t turn a profit, there’s no reason for them to run. Right now, it’s not the markets that are the issue. It’s the cost of the logs,” he said.

Stumpage is a fee businesses pay when they harvest timber from Crown land. The B.C. government calculates stumpage annually, so the system is less responsive than in Alberta, where monthly adjustments are made, Gibbons said.

The Forests Ministry said stumpage fees are based on market demand and the current rates reflect the scarcity of timber supply that has resulted from the mountain pine beetle outbreak and been exacerbated by several severe fire seasons.

Intervention in the stumpage system would weaken the legal case in the appeals of the duties imposed by the United States on softwood lumber from Canada, the ministry said in a statement.

“It is well-known that any interference in B.C.’s market-based timber pricing system would lead to an increase in softwood lumber duties levied by the U.S.,” it said.

Most of B.C.’s forest land is publicly owned, so companies have long-term tenure rights and the government charges them stumpage to harvest trees. In contrast, most land in the U.S. is private and companies face costs associated with replanting.

“That’s what the stumpage fee is all about,” explained Ken Peacock, chief economist of the Business Council of B.C. “It tries to equate, if it was privately owned, what the cost would be to operate and manage and reforest the land.”

Peacock said the high cost of logs is the major cause of the industry’s decline in B.C. He also blamed the mountain pine beetle and record-breaking 2017 and 2018 fire seasons for decimating supply.

The policies of Premier John Horgan’s government are also breeding uncertainty, Peacock argued.

The government is developing a caribou habitat protection plan that the industry expects will further restrict access to northern timber, he said, and it’s promised to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without explaining how companies are meant to fulfil its requirement of “free, prior and informed consent” from First Nations.

The NDP government has also introduced Bill 22, which would control tenure transfers. Currently, a company that is scaling back or shutting down a mill can transfer its tenure to one that is operating, but the government wants oversight over these transfers to protect the “public interest,” a term not defined in the legislation, Peacock said.

“The picture here in B.C. is we are a very high cost jurisdiction. It’s actually less costly to operate in Alberta and companies can make a profit milling lumber and producing two-by-fours in Alberta.”

On top of all that, market conditions in North America are softening, he noted.

Forestry is the no. 1 engine that drives B.C.’s economy with nearly $15 billion in annual exports, representing one-third of the province’s international merchandise exports and the largest segment by far, said Peacock.

The Business Council of B.C. just trimmed its 2019 economic forecast in part because of the forestry downturn, from 2.2 to 2 per cent growth, he said. The B.C. government also just cut its forecast to 1.7 per cent, citing mill closures in part.

The Forests Ministry said the challenges the province is facing have been in the making for many years and the previous Liberal government ignored them and failed to help the sector and communities adapt.

“We have laid out a process … to bring together industry, First Nations, labour and communities to address the challenges and build a sustainable sector to protect jobs.”

Opposition Liberal forestry critic John Rustad has blamed the current government’s policies for “killing the industry” and resulting in more layoffs and closures.

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GM 49,000 workers in U.S. set to strike at midnight

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The union representing about 49,000 General Motors workers in the U.S. said they would go on strike at midnight Sunday night because contract negotiations with the automaker had broken down.

The decision came after about 200 plant-level United Auto Workers leaders, who met in Detroit on Sunday morning, voted unanimously in favour of a walkout.

The four-year contract with GM expired on Saturday, raising the possibility of a strike.

“We do not take this lightly,” Terry Dittes, the UAW vice-president in charge of the union’s relationship with GM, said at a news conference in downtown Detroit. “This is our last resort.”

The union has framed the four plant closures in the U.S. announced by GM as a betrayal of workers who made concessions in 2009 to help the automaker through its government-led bankruptcy.

“General Motors needs to understand that we stood up for GM when they needed us,” Ted Krumm, head of the union’s bargaining  committee in talks with GM, said at the news conference Sunday. “These are profitable times … and we deserve a fair contract. We helped make this company what it is.”

GM said in a statement that its offer to the UAW during talks included more than $7 billion in investments, 5,400 jobs — a majority of which would be new jobs — pay increases, improved benefits and a contract ratification bonus of $8,000 US.

“We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency,” the automaker said.

On Saturday night, GM had said in a statement that it still held out hope for an agreement: “We are prepared to negotiate around the clock because there are thousands of GM families and their communities — and many thousands more at our dealerships and suppliers — counting on us for their livelihood. Our goal remains on building a strong future for our employees and our business.”

A strike would halt GM’s U.S. production, and could have an impact on vehicle production in Mexico and Canada (there are Ontario assembly plants in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Ingersoll, Ont.). Canadian workers are represented by a different union — Unifor — but the North American auto industry is integrated and Canadian operations rely on parts from the U.S.

Kristin Dziczek, vice-president of industry, labour and economics at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research (CAR), said a strike at GM’s U.S. facilities would also shut its plants in Canada and Mexico because the automaker’s supply chain is so integrated.

“That’s going to have a big effect on the economy,” Dziczek said.

Janitors at UAW-represented facilities walk out

While autoworkers showed up for their jobs Sunday, about 850 UAW-represented janitors at eight GM facilities in Ohio and Michigan who work for Aramark, a separate company, went on strike Sunday after working under an extended contract since March of 2018, the union said.

It appeared GM workers were crossing picket lines set up by their own union. The Detroit Free Press reported that factory workers at a pickup truck plant in Flint, Mich., reluctantly passed Aramark picketers to report for work early Sunday.

GM said in a statement that it has contingency plans for any disruptions from the Aramark strike.

UAW vice-president Terry Dittes said in a letter to GM members that, after months of bargaining, both the union and GM were far apart on issues such as wages, health care, temporary employees, job security and profit sharing.

The union’s executive leaders and a larger group of plant-level officials were meeting Sunday morning to decide the union’s next steps.

A letter to members and another one to GM were aimed at turning up the pressure on GM negotiators.

A GMC Yukon moves through the assembly line at a General Motors assembly plant in Arlington, Texas, on June 9. The UAW’s pact with GM expired Saturday night. (Mike Stone/Reuters)

“While we are fighting for better wages, affordable quality health care and job security, GM refuses to put hard-working Americans ahead of their record profits,” Dittes, the union’s chief bargainer with GM, said in a statement Saturday night.

If there is an autoworkers strike, it would be the union’s first since a two-day work stoppage at GM in 2007.

The move by the union also comes as it faces an internal struggle over a federal corruption investigation that has touched its president, Gary Jones. Some union members are calling for Jones to step down while the investigation continues. But Friday night, union leaders did not remove Jones.

Vance Pearson, head of a regional office based near St. Louis, has been charged with corruption in an alleged scheme to embezzle union money and spend cash on premium booze, golf clubs, cigars and swanky stays in California. It’s the same region that Jones led before taking the union’s top office last year. Jones has not been charged.

GM odd firm out: Ford, Fiat Chrysler pacts extended

On Friday, contracts with Ford and Fiat Chrysler were extended indefinitely, but the pact with General Motors was still set to expire Saturday night.

The union has picked GM, which is more profitable than Ford and Fiat Chrysler, as the target company for labour action, meaning it’s the focus of bargaining and would be the first company to face a walkout. Picket-line schedules already have been posted near the entrance to one local UAW office in Detroit.

GM and union talks were tense from the start, largely because GM plans to close four U.S. factories. The union has promised to fight the closures. One Canadian assembly plant, in Oshawa, is also set to close at the end of the year.

Here are the main areas of disagreement:

  • GM is making big money, $8 billion last year alone, and workers want a bigger slice. The union wants annual pay raises to guard against an economic downturn, but the company wants to pay lump sums tied to earnings. Automakers don’t want higher fixed costs.
  • The union also wants new products built in the four U.S. factories GM wants to close. The factory plans have irked some workers, although most of those who were laid off will get jobs at other GM factories. GM says it currently has too much U.S. factory capacity.
  • The companies want to close the labour cost gap with workers at plants run by automakers outside North America. GM’s gap is the largest at $13 per hour, followed by Ford at $11 and Fiat Chrysler at $5, according to figures from the Center for Automotive Research. GM pays $63 per hour in wages and benefits compared with $50 at the foreign-owned factories.
  • U.S. union members have good health insurance plans but workers pay about four per cent of the cost. Employees of large firms nationwide pay about 34 per cent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The companies would like to cut costs.

GM currently has healthy levels of inventory of some of its key, high-margin vehicles. Around the United States, the automaker has 12 vehicle assembly plants, 12 engine and power train facilities, and a handful of stamping plants and other facilities.

As of Sept. 1, GM had 96 days supply of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, 59 days supply of its Chevrolet Equinox SUV and more than 100 days supply of the Cadillac Escalade.

Strike pay provided by the UAW, which has been building up reserves in preparation for possible industrial action, is about $250 per week — far below their normal wages.

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