APD had the pleasure of participating in a recent New England Real Estate Journal event, Cannabis and Commercial Real Estate, organized in conjunction with the Northeast Buildings and Facilities Management Show. Brian Anderson joined Kevin Conroy, Esq., Partner at Foley Hoag, and Frank Flynn, Esq., Owner and Managing Partner of Flynn Law Group on a panel titled ‘Laws and Restrictions to Operate, Zoning and Permitting,’ moderated by Camilo Basto of ABG Commercial Realty.

Most applicants entering the Cannabis industry in Massachusetts find themselves in search of existing buildings in which to locate their cultivation and dispensary facilities, and often along with these existing buildings come existing structural or material problems. Anderson pointed out that once an appropriate site and facility has been selected, there are often two projects that need to be undertaken: one to renovate the infrastructure of the base building so it can be accommodate its new use, and the other to design and construct the facility to be capable of producing a medical grade product.

Some things to consider when seeking an existing facility in which to locate a cultivation operation are:

  • Are the utilities (electrical, water, etc) capable of supporting the increased lighting, plumbing, and HVAC loads of a grow facility? If they need to be upgraded, contact the local energy supplier to determine what kind of wait time may be associated with that. Often large up-front delays can be associated with the required power upgrades.
  • Is the existing structure capable of supporting added loads of lighting and mechanical equipment? If not, is there sufficient exterior space for equipment pads that may need to be located adjacent to the building?
  • Is the building envelope tight enough to prevent infiltration of external particulates and contaminants that may damage the plants?
  • Does the building contain any asbestos, mold, or other substances that may require abatement encapsulation, or other special treatment?

As you can see, there are a number of industry-specific needs when it comes to finding a good location for a cultivation facility. Moderator Camilo Basto emphasized the need for real estate agents and brokers who truly understand this industry and can locate suitable properties for cannabis businesses across the state.

With two lawyers on the panel, a lot of the questions and discussion centered around getting local approval from a town where applicants may want to locate a dispensary or cultivation facility, and how best to go about that. One of the top tips given by Kevin Conroy was that ‘all politics is local’ – as a Boston based firm, they often recommend clients partner with local representation and establish a presence and rapport with the local zoning board, developing strong relationships that will improve their chances of securing a letter of non-opposition or a community host agreement. Brian went a step further to add that, in his experience, the most successful cannabis businesses in Massachusetts have a connection to the towns where they are located, and when asked by a Board of Selectmen, they are quick to respond with a strong story behind why they are interested in locating in that town.

Architects play an important role in assisting applicants to get past the Zoning Board of Approvals, through the Special Permit process, and obtain a Building Permit. But another value Architects bring is to help our clients minimize their risk by designing their facilities to comply with OSHA, ADA, and CGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices). This starts in the Programming phase, and we walk our clients through a series of questions pertaining to their cultivation techniques in this early stage. Working in a nascent industry, many of our clients are not accustomed to complying with these various codes, so we are able to advise them on best practices and aid in equipment and material selections that bring their operating procedures into compliance.

If you’re in the process of opening a cannabis business and in need of an architect who is familiar with the industry, please contact us. We’d love to learn more about your business and whether we may be a good fit to provide architectural services for your cultivation or dispensary facilities.