Prohibition is best answer to cannabis in condos, legal expert says

Alberta condominium boards that fail to make their buildings cannabis-free before marijuana is legalized risk sparking serious discord within their properties, says a lawyer who specializes in condominium law.

'In order to minimize conflicts, you've got to go with total prohibition'

With federal legislation allowing people to consume marijuana recreationally expected to come into effect this July, condo boards should be preparing for changes. (CBC)

Alberta condominium boards that  fail to make their buildings cannabis-free before marijuana is legalized risk sparking serious discord within their properties, says a lawyer who specializes in condominium law.

The legalization of recreational cannabis is rife with potential problems for property managers, said Robert Noce.

Condo boards, and landlords responsible for multi-unit buildings would be wise to nip the problem in the bud, before the summer deadline, he said. 

"In order to minimize conflicts, you've got to go with total prohibition," Noce said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"When you are living in a confined space with other people so close to you, you've got to have good rules in place to minimize the conflict you will eventually have with your neighbours."

'The time to do it is now'

New federal legislation allowing people to consume marijuana recreationally is expected to come into effect this July, and condo boards should be preparing for the change, said Noce.

Failure to amend regulations to ban marijuana smoke and plants will leave condo boards legally vulnerable, he said.

"I'm encouraging condo boards, at minimum, to take a look at their current bylaws," Noce said. "If they need to make some changes, the time to do it is now."

Alberta's proposed laws would allow for personal possession and smoking in public. People over the age of 18 would be able to grow as many as four marijuana plants in their homes, as long as the plants aren't taller than 100 centimetres.

Even after marijuana is legalized across Canada, condo residents could likely be barred from smoking or growing it at home, said Noce.  

Many condo boards already have smoke-free regulations, while other property managers have been working to implement new regulations in light of the legalization deadline.  

The province has acknowledged that people who live in multi-family dwellings may be prevented from consuming or growing marijuana in their homes.

"Existing tools such as rental agreements or condo bylaws would be able to prohibit cannabis consumption or growing in a given property, in the same way they can already prohibit tobacco smoking," Veronica Jubinville, press secretary to Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, said in a statement to CBC News.

Boards are within their rights to ban both, due to potential health and safety risks, Noce said. And boards can change their rules at any time, provided 80 per cent of unit owners vote in favour.

The issue with marijuana in condominiums comes from the smoke and smell, which can be a nuisance to other owners. There are also concerns about fire hazards, mould and over-tapped electricity systems from grow operations. 

"[Smoking] causes conflict and anger and situations in condominium buildings, which can only be resolved today through the court process," said Noce.

"I don't know what the impact of three or four plants can be, but if there are any issues, the time to think about these problems is now. I believe that an outright ban will prevent issues in the future."

'It's not as black and white'

The use of marijuana to treat medical conditions is on the rise, and is only expected to increase.  An attempt by a condominium corporation to stop a resident from smoking could be challenged in court, Noce said. 

Landlords need to make accommodations for medicinal users, but could also encourage them to consume cannabis as edibles and oils.

"It's not as black and white," said Noce. "A person with medical use may have a human rights claim, if they're denied that opportunity.

"It's the smoking that's the issue. Even so, the person with the medical requirement may claim the corporation is doing something that is negatively impacting their disability. That's a reality."