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New insurance risks as cannabis lounges open across the US

The Barbary Coast lounge in San Francisco
As cannabis lounges continue to pop up across the U.S., it’s critical these businesses protect themselves and their bottom line, ensuring they’re covered from potential risks and accidents. It’s a classic risk-reward situation; while these bar-like establishments are expected to add nearly $100 million to the U.S. economy this year, there’s also the added risk of openly serving cannabis products to people who will have different experiences.

In a growing number of communities around the U.S., new cannabis lounges are offering a social setting where guests can openly use cannabis products. Colorado and New Mexico both saw their first cannabis lounges open in April, Michigan’s first cannabis lounge is set to open this summer, and officials in Nevada are currently discussing how the recently approved class of businesses should be regulated. In West Hollywood, California, where the state’s first cannabis lounge opened in 2019, multiple new lounges are now in the works after two years of slowdown due to the pandemic.

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.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Jason Scheurle on Cannabis Industry Journal

Published: July 06, 2022

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