Fidelity Title Insurance to Block Coverage of Cannabis Properties

Cannabis-related properties targeted by title insurance company




Fidelity National Title Group, a subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial, the largest title insurer in the world, has issued an underwriting bulletin to its agents in 28 states not to insure any land used “for the production or distribution of marijuana.”

According to the memo issued June 29, 2017, by Fidelity National Title, the company’s Chief Underwriting Counsel said that properties in the 28 states “that have in some capacity legalized cultivation, distribution, manufacture or sale of marijuana products” will not be insured by Fidelity.

The bulletin instructs its agents and people in company operations to include the following language in every title commitment the company issues in the 28 states. This underwriting bulletin (coded as Fidelity National Title Insurance bulletin 2017 RC-05) states:

“Please be aware that due to the conflict between federal and state laws concerning the cultivation, distribution, manufacture, or sale of marijuana, the Company (Fidelity) is not able to close or insure any transaction involving Land associated with these activities.”

On its website, Fidelity National Financial describes itself as “the nation’s largest title insurance company through its title insurance underwriters—Fidelity National Title, Chicago Title, Commonwealth Land Title, Alamo Title, and National Title of New York—that collectively issue more title insurance policies than any other title company in the United States.” 

The bulletin recommends that if a title company sends out a “welcome” package or instructions before closing, it should include a similar statement saying the land will not be insured. The bulletin also says, “The sooner we indicate our unwillingness to insure, the better all around.”

In effect, the bulletin can affect the purchase and sale of undeveloped land, commercial properties, retail stores, and houses where marijuana has been used, even in states where it is legal. The bulletin and denial of title insurance mean that many properties will not be financeable in a real estate transaction.

When a commitment letter is sent to a purchaser, the Fidelity underwriting bulletin requires a real estate seller and buyer to sign an affidavit attesting that the property was not used for any purposes related to cannabis activities.

The bulletin was issued because the company did not want to discover at the actual closing event that the property “is used or intended for such purposes,” which would result in declining the title insurance coverage. If the statement is sent to buyers before the closing, Fidelity said, “it should make it easier to decline earlier in the transaction and put the burden of disclosure on the parties to the transaction.”

Impact on Cannabis-Related Real Estate

Reaction to the Fidelity underwriting bulletin was strong. One title insurance executive said the memo “sounds like a game changer” regarding how cannabis-related properties can be bought and sold.

He also speculated that the company may have been acting in response to federal pressure to stop the expansion of the cannabis industry in states where it has become decriminalized.

The title insurance executive said, “This can be a way to shunt this title insurance business to a subsidiary or the re-insurance industry at a much higher cost for title insurance or to use an indemnity policy.

In a LinkedIn post on March 2017, before the issuance of the Fidelity underwriting bulletin, attorney Michael J. Moore, citing an earlier 2016 article written by Vince Sliwoski, wrote, “in states that have legalized the plant so far, title insurance companies set up a specific exception in their policies which excludes coverage over governmental actions, such as civil and criminal forfeiture of property under the federal Controlled Substance Act.

Failure of the purchaser to disclose its intended use of the property may result in the title insurance company denying liability on a claim relating to property forfeiture because of the marijuana activity on the property. It is recommended that a buyer disclose their intended use of the land. Otherwise, the title company argues not to pay on claims.”

Moore also said, “Many title insurance companies have refused to act as an escrow agent for those transactions because of the uncertain legalities involved. They have refused to handle the transfer of funds and closing documents. Some companies will not get involved in any closing process, while others may provide a facility to settle the transaction and issue a title insurance policy. Without title companies providing escrow services, the parties to a transaction must locate neutral third parties to perform the service.”

While the insurance industry, including life, auto, and home, has addressed claims and procedures in states where cannabis is legal or decriminalized, the real estate title insurance directive has more significant and expensive implications.

The Fidelity underwriting directive, however, elevates the decision not to insure title for cannabis-related properties to a new level, one that may have been developed at the behest of federal authorities.


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Chuck Epstein has managed marketing communications and public relations departments for major global financial institutions and participated in the launch of industry-changing financial products. He also has written by-lined articles for over 50 publications, five books and served as editor and publisher of nation’s first newsletter on the topic of using the PC for personal investing and trading. (“Investing Online, 1994-1999). He also is a marketing consultant, writer and speaker on topics related to investor protection and opportunities in the very dynamic cannabis industry. He has held senior-level marketing, PR and communications positions at the New York Futures Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Lind-Waldock, Zacks Investment Research, Russell Investments and Principal Financial. He has won national awards from the Mutual Fund Education Alliance (MFEA) and his web site,, was named best small blog in 2009 by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW).


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