Office real estate market slowly adapting to cannabis culture

Cannabis companies looking for space need to consider laws and bylaws at all levels

British Columbia has a liberal reputation, but is it all just smoke (and a mirror of our aspirations)?

Colliers International notes that B.C. residents were among those most in favour of legalizing cannabis, but its recent survey of worker attitudes found the province’s office tenants are also the most likely to favour tight restrictions on the marketing, sale and use of cannabis in office buildings. Just 26 per cent felt cannabis should be modestly or mostly unrestricted.

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Recent conferences where cannabis and real estate intersected echoed the cautious, and dare we say conservative, attitude.

Colliers associate Bianca Gilbert, who focuses on industrial sales and leasing, told the Vancouver Real Estate Strategy and Leasing Conference that cannabis may be legal at the federal and provincial levels, but municipalities and stratas essentially hold a veto.

Cannabis companies looking for real estate need to consider both municipal and strata bylaws.

“There’s going to be three things that I could foresee that are potential issues and problems,” she said. “One is municipal bylaws, where they can be located, which is still … up in the air. Two: strata bylaws. … You could have your bylaws written against you.”

Stratas also hold power – literally – when it comes to the reserve of power some cannabis companies may need to access for their famously resource-intensive crop. Strata corporations may not write bylaws against cannabis operators but may deny them access to reserve power.

Residential unit owners may fare better, according to Michael Drouillard, an associate with Vancouver law firm Harper Grey LLP who is helping update bylaws at a half-dozen buildings.

“A strata corporation has wide-ranging authority to regulate the common areas and the use of strata lots,” he said. “But what’s going to happen is these strata corporations are going to come up against human rights legislation.”

An owner who can demonstrate a medical need to consume cannabis must be accommodated, Drouillard indicated, including in production. (Growers of medical cannabis for personal use are allowed more than four plants each.)

Speaking at the CanWest Hort Expo in Abbotsford earlier this fall, Kwantlen Polytechnic University instructor Tom Ulanowski noted that insurance was also a risk because some insurers still consider any residence with cannabis production a grow-op.

“That’s not a good thing. I don’t know how this is going to change,” he said.

By the same token, some insurers (like banks) are cool with cannabis, so long as clients respect the law and engage qualified professionals to undertake any home modifications to accommodate production systems.

“Cannabis is safe; no one’s ever died from cannabis consumption,” Ulanowski quipped. “You might feel like you’re dying if you eat too many cookies, but ultimately, it’s a safe plant.”

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