Transportation Risks

Cannabis Transport Risk

There are billions to be made, but those transporting the product tread carefully.
By: | February 20, 2018 • 6 min read

While driving around with a hundred pounds of marijuana might be a criminal activity in most places, it’s just another part of the business day in states like California, Nevada and Colorado.

As legal marijuana gains a foothold across the United States, those in the industry say it’s an exciting and challenging time. With a small, high-value product and lots of cash involved, the risk of theft is high. Add in the myriad of state regulations and the prospect of a federal crackdown, and legal cannabis transportation can be a risky business.

 High Value Product with Big Risk

Recreational cannabis is now legal in eight states, and it is on track to become a $24 billion industry by 2025, according to the Cannabis Industry 2017 Annual Report. From the fields to counters of dispensaries, the growing industry continues to face a number of operational challenges due to its unique legal status.

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Because cannabis remains illegal under federal law, many banks and insurers do not want to participate, leaving large parts of the industry unbanked and uninsured.

As a result, there are notable risks in transporting product. Cannabis distributors not only transport hundreds of pounds of high-value product but also six-figure sums of cash.

For transport companies like Hardcar Security in California, the risk is big. It took the company eight months to find insurance to cover their operations, product and cash, said CEO Todd Kleperis.

“You become a huge target [for criminals] and your risk profile is off the charts,” Kleperis says.

“It’s not an easy business to get in.”

Hardcar Security transports cannabis products and cash in California for the medical and recreational marijuana industry. Due to the risk involved, Hardcar operates more like a military operation than a transport company, Kleperis said.

Trucks are unmarked, armor-plated and equipped with bulletproof glass. Most drivers are former military veterans, travel armed, and take different routes to minimize risk.

“We want to make sure that when people see our trucks, they don’t know if its product or cash. I don’t even want them knowing what our trucks look like,” said Kleperis.

Green Insurance Options

The legal marijuana industry is in its infancy, but a few insurers and brokers are starting to enter the market. Zeyger Insurance in Calabasas, Calif., offers insurance to every area of the cannabis industry, from manufacturing and transportation to retail.

Zeyger president and founder Michael Senderovich has been attending cannabis industry meetings and events to stay in touch with the concerns and needs of businesses. There is strong interest coming from California, he said.

How to cover government seizure is the number one question when we’re at trade shows. It’s specifically excluded in every policy I’ve seen.– Denny Christner of Cannabis Insurance Associates

“There are already 10,000 applications in the city of Los Angeles alone, and they are all still pretty much pending. It’s moving very slowly, but there is a lot of interest. And they need insurance,” Senderovich said.

Much like any other industry, cannabis companies are seeking insurance products like general liability, workers’ compensation and product liability. What complicates the matter is that cannabis remains illegal under federal law and is subject to varying state and local laws, especially when it comes to transportation and distribution.

There is no straightforward path to coverage and every policy is written differently according to the market and risk, says Lisa Chaumont, vice president of underwriting, Cannabis Insurance Solutions, in Broomfield, Colo.

Denny Christner
Cannabis Insurance Associates

“It depends on a number of factors. Whether they are transporting for themselves or for a third party. Whether it is armored, how it is carried,” Chaumont said.

One of Chaumont’s main carriers offers a policy that covers up to $100,000 in product and up to $50,000 in cash.

One unique aspect is that product coverage is only triggered when an entire load is stolen. A typical deductible is $2,500, and while it can vary dramatically by strain, the average going rate for a pound of cannabis in California is $1,600.

While there are many brokers and insurers advertising coverage, many don’t offer the coverage cannabis companies really need, Senderovich said. Many have fine-print marijuana exclusions.

So, while policies may cover general liability, auto and property, they likely don’t cover cannabis. For those that do offer full coverage, the requirements can be high.

“Our insurance would not allow us to do both product and cash without armored trucks. There is no insurance carrier in the world that would do that,” Kleperis said.

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“Seed to sale” regulatory systems in many legal states track products with packaging and barcodes from the time it leaves the farm until the time it is sold. This chain of custody not only helps regulators track product, but also can help insurers, Chaumont said.

In one recent claim for stolen product, the insurer was able to verify the cannabis all the way back through the system to the farm.

Good coverage also doesn’t come cheap, and underwriters want to see a lot of documents, including business licenses and appropriate state and local cannabis permits. In California, the Bureau of Cannabis Control started accepting applications for retailers and distributors in early-December.

“We get a lot of startups that don’t have a permit yet are looking for quotes or coverage, and we really can’t continue that process until they show proof. Underwriters are doing a good job of classifying and clearing the prospects,” said Denny Christner, CIC, Cannabis Insurance Associates, a division of Brown & Brown Insurance in Lafayette, Calif.

 Regulations and Federal Law Uncertain

Cannabis’ illegal status under federal law continues to be the biggest hurdle in the industry, one that scares away most insurers, Christner said. While federal legalization could make the industry “no different than alcohol,” challenges will remain as long as marijuana remains on the DEA’s list of Schedule I drugs, he said.

Michael Senderovich
President and Founder of Zeyger Insurance

The federal government has had a lax attitude over the past couple of years, but transporters cannot cross state lines or any place that is considered federal land.

At Hardcar, drivers are routed to ensure they do not approach any federally-regulated lands or risk going through federal checkpoints.

“If you cross a federal checkpoint anywhere within the state of California, you put yourself in immediate risk,” he said. “You have to route your drivers to ensure they’re not going anywhere near them.”

In December, the California Highway Patrol seized a vanload of 1,875 pounds of marijuana from distribution company Old Kai.

While the company produced documents proving they were complying with new state and local laws, authorities said it didn’t matter because the rules were not yet in place until January 1, 2018. And even within legal states, cities and counties are starting to create their own laws.

“How to cover government seizure is the number one question when we’re at trade shows. It’s specifically excluded in every policy I’ve seen,” Christner said.

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And the risks from the federal level could be growing. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in early January 2018 the rescinding of an Obama-era policy that discouraged federal prosecutors from pursing marijuana-related charges in states that had legalized it.

Most in the industry say it’s symbolic only and unlikely to have any impact.

Politicians in legal states note that the federal government is unlikely to confront states given the growing public acceptance of marijuana use. Sessions did not order prosecutors to go after legal cannabis but instead said the decision would be up to each of the 93 U.S. district attorneys.

“It will be business as usual …The risk you put yourself at, personally and financially, is very high. But the bigger the risk, the bigger the potential windfall.

“The people who are now on top of the alcohol industry and are worth billions are those that took risk in the prohibition era,” Kleperis said. &

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Insurtech

Kiss Your Annual Renewal Goodbye; On-Demand Insurance Challenges the Traditional Policy

Gig workers' unique insurance needs drive delivery of on-demand coverage.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 6 min read

The gig economy is growing. Nearly six million Americans, or 3.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, now have “contingent” work arrangements, with a further 10.6 million in categories such as independent contractors, on-call workers or temporary help agency staff and for-contract firms, often with well-known names such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

The number of Americans owning a drone is also increasing — one recent survey suggested as much as one in 12 of the population — sparking vigorous debate on how regulation should apply to where and when the devices operate.

Add to this other 21st century societal changes, such as consumers’ appetite for other electronic gadgets and the advent of autonomous vehicles. It’s clear that the cover offered by the annually renewable traditional insurance policy is often not fit for purpose. Helped by the sophistication of insurance technology, the response has been an expanding range of ‘on-demand’ covers.

The term ‘on-demand’ is open to various interpretations. For Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO of pioneering on-demand insurance platform Trōv, it’s about “giving people agency over the items they own and enabling them to turn on insurance cover whenever they want for whatever they want — often for just a single item.”

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“On-demand represents a whole new behavior and attitude towards insurance, which for years has very much been a case of ‘get it and forget it,’ ” said Walchek.

Trōv’s mobile app enables users to insure just a single item, such as a laptop, whenever they wish and to also select the period of cover required. When ready to buy insurance, they then snap a picture of the sales receipt or product code of the item they want covered.

Welcoming Trōv: A New On-Demand Arrival

While Walchek, who set up Trōv in 2012, stressed it’s a technology company and not an insurance company, it has attracted industry giants such as AXA and Munich Re as partners. Trōv began the U.S. roll-out of its on-demand personal property products this summer by launching in Arizona, having already established itself in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“Australia and the UK were great testing grounds, thanks to their single regulatory authorities,” said Walchek. “Trōv is already approved in 45 states, and we expect to complete the process in all by November.

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group.” – Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group,” he added.

“But a mass of tectonic societal shifts is also impacting older generations — on-demand cover fits the new ways in which they work, particularly the ‘untethered’ who aren’t always in the same workplace or using the same device. So we see on-demand going into societal lifestyle changes.”

Wooing Baby Boomers

In addition to its backing for Trōv, across the Atlantic, AXA has partnered with Insurtech start-up By Miles, launching a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy in the UK. The product is promoted as low-cost car insurance for drivers who travel no more than 140 miles per week, or 7,000 miles annually.

“Due to the growing need for these products, companies such as Marmalade — cover for learner drivers — and Cuvva — cover for part-time drivers — have also increased in popularity, and we expect to see more enter the market in the near future,” said AXA UK’s head of telematics, Katy Simpson.

Simpson confirmed that the new products’ initial appeal is to younger motorists, who are more regular users of new technology, while older drivers are warier about sharing too much personal information. However, she expects this to change as on-demand products become more prevalent.

“Looking at mileage-based insurance, such as By Miles specifically, it’s actually older generations who are most likely to save money, as the use of their vehicles tends to decline. Our job is therefore to not only create more customer-centric products but also highlight their benefits to everyone.”

Another Insurtech ready to partner with long-established names is New York-based Slice Labs, which in the UK is working with Legal & General to enter the homeshare insurance market, recently announcing that XL Catlin will use its insurance cloud services platform to create the world’s first on-demand cyber insurance solution.

“For our cyber product, we were looking for a partner on the fintech side, which dovetailed perfectly with what Slice was trying to do,” said John Coletti, head of XL Catlin’s cyber insurance team.

“The premise of selling cyber insurance to small businesses needs a platform such as that provided by Slice — we can get to customers in a discrete, seamless manner, and the partnership offers potential to open up other products.”

Slice Labs’ CEO Tim Attia added: “You can roll up on-demand cover in many different areas, ranging from contract workers to vacation rentals.

“The next leap forward will be provided by the new economy, which will create a range of new risks for on-demand insurance to respond to. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025, ecosystems will account for 30 percent of global premium revenue.

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“When you’re a start-up, you can innovate and question long-held assumptions, but you don’t have the scale that an insurer can provide,” said Attia. “Our platform works well in getting new products out to the market and is scalable.”

Slice Labs is now reviewing the emerging markets, which aren’t hampered by “old, outdated infrastructures,” and plans to test the water via a hackathon in southeast Asia.

Collaboration Vs Competition

Insurtech-insurer collaborations suggest that the industry noted the banking sector’s experience, which names the tech disruptors before deciding partnerships, made greater sense commercially.

“It’s an interesting correlation,” said Slice’s managing director for marketing, Emily Kosick.

“I believe the trend worth calling out is that the window for insurers to innovate is much shorter, thanks to the banking sector’s efforts to offer omni-channel banking, incorporating mobile devices and, more recently, intelligent assistants like Alexa for personal banking.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.”

As with fintechs in banking, Insurtechs initially focused on the retail segment, with 75 percent of business in personal lines and the remainder in the commercial segment.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.” — Emily Kosick, managing director, marketing, Slice

Those proportions may be set to change, with innovations such as digital commercial insurance brokerage Embroker’s recent launch of the first digital D&O liability insurance policy, designed for venture capital-backed tech start-ups and reinsured by Munich Re.

Embroker said coverage that formerly took weeks to obtain is now available instantly.

“We focus on three main issues in developing new digital business — what is the customer’s pain point, what is the expense ratio and does it lend itself to algorithmic underwriting?” said CEO Matt Miller. “Workers’ compensation is another obvious class of insurance that can benefit from this approach.”

Jason Griswold, co-founder and chief operating officer of Insurtech REIN, highlighted further opportunities: “I’d add a third category to personal and business lines and that’s business-to-business-to-consumer. It’s there we see the biggest opportunities for partnering with major ecosystems generating large numbers of insureds and also big volumes of data.”

For now, insurers are accommodating Insurtech disruption. Will that change?

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“Insurtechs have focused on products that regulators can understand easily and for which there is clear existing legislation, with consumer protection and insurer solvency the two issues of paramount importance,” noted Shawn Hanson, litigation partner at law firm Akin Gump.

“In time, we could see the disruptors partner with reinsurers rather than primary carriers. Another possibility is the likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, with their massive balance sheets, deciding to link up with a reinsurer,” he said.

“You can imagine one of them finding a good Insurtech and buying it, much as Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods gave it entry into the retail sector.” &

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at riskletters.com.