You started your cannabis business. Now you need a building for it.

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Almost half of your license application and compliance relates to the design and operation of your facility. Applicants usually find that this part of their license is the most complicated, mostly because very few buildings meet the strict security, zoning, environmental, utility, and other requirements for cannabis facilities.

Every cannabis application submitted to the state must include the address, site plan and (in most cases) energy and water use based on your planned operation in that building. That requires applicants (and their consultants) to precheck a lot of details with the state and local authorities to ensure you aren’t submitting a license for a facility you can’t use for cannabis.

Nearly every building used for cannabis has to go through a “change of use” requiring, at a minimum, a review of existing architectural, mechanical, engineering and life safety drawings. Most require at least some new building permits to renovate the facility or upgrade to meet required codes and regulations.

At the very least, you will have to hire an architect or licensed contractor to submit your change of use and request your new certificate of occupancy from your local building authority. Even if you have experience with building codes and construction, the specialized regulatory requirements (especially electrical, odor control and food safety rules) for cannabis can add weeks or months to a project if you do not plan up front.

Most of our clients choose to hire an experienced cannabis project manager to organize the contractors and permits and to be on site when building inspectors come so they can explain the unique building codes and regulations.

I have a state license and a lease for a building but my city says I have to get a “change of use” and lots of expensive design drawings. What is this? 

I already have a building in mind. What do I do next?

Well-meaning landlords often market their properties as “cannabis-friendly” but many can’t pass the stringent local and state rules.

Some cities have buffers between cannabis facilities and other uses (schools and daycares, usually).  Some even add things like churches, government buildings, and parks or they add unreasonable nuisance, odor, water, or security requirements (mostly intended to limit cannabis uses in a different way).  And, even if you get pass those tests, many commercial property covenants, standard leases or bank agreements prohibit using the sites for uses against federal law, even if the landlord consents. It is important that you have an experienced cannabis realtor or consultant on your team when you evaluate buildings so you aren’t locked into a lease you can’t use. At Weeds. we have a team of experienced realtors we work with to identify and evaluate properties for clients.

Every commercial building has to have a fire inspection and certificate of occupancy to show that it is safe for the intended use. In other industries, a previous tenant (think a regular retailer or restaurant) probably obtained a certificate of occupancy and the next tenant can keep using it the same way as long as the building isn’t changed too much. But cannabis is new so the first cannabis tenant (that’s you!) has to prove that the building is safe to use for this new use. That usually means you have to obtain new architectural drawings and, sometimes, new engineering drawings to prove that it meets codes and your use. The rules for passing those inspections vary from city to city so it’s important to work with experienced project managers upfront.

We help our clients evaluate potential buildings before they sign leases or contracts so you know what it takes to get it up to code and help you negotiate for those costs before you sign. If you already have a building, we have a network of professionals we work with for clients who can help you get the building and occupancy permits required to open.

I heard it can take a long time to find the right building for cannabis use. Why is that?

When you apply for your state license, you must have a premise identified that meets all local zoning and building codes, or a plan to receive required variances and permits.

Just because the landlord says they are OK for you to use it for cannabis doesn’t mean the city or county does. Every city and county has its own local cannabis zoning code restricting where certain cannabis activities can be located or restricting the size of the building or lot you can use. About half of the local jurisdictions also require you to seek conditional use permits meaning your right to use a building is not automatic. In these cases, you may have to go through a hearing with the local zoning board or city council before receiving permission to operate there. In other cities, you must pre-approve your state facility and then seek local permission. Either way, it is important to work with your consulting team to develop a licensing plan to apply to the right agencies in the right order.

When you change the use of a facility to cannabis, your facilities must receive new fire inspections and new certificates of occupancy (building inspections), even if you already have one. This often requires architects or mechanical engineers to certify that your plans meet building codes for your use. At Weeds. we work with experienced construction managers to ensure your building can meet those rules and that you understand the costs and timelines for required upgrades or renovations. (Note: in some areas, local power grids are at capacity and not eligible for electrical upgrades required to operate large facilities. Check with your local utility).

If you have not already identified a facility, we can connect you with cannabis-experienced realtors and project managers to help evaluate zoning, permitting, and construction costs before you sign the lease or note.

I am a landlord and I’d be open to cannabis tenants. Can you help?

Yes! Cannabis-ready spaces are at a premium in this market. We have worked with property owners to evaluate their properties for zoning, distance and utility capacity before listing so you can market your best assets.

Often, we can work with your realtor to identify a viable tenant in our client list, helping you close a deal before listing.

Questions? Ask us.

In The Weeds.

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