Woman's deadly cannabis allergy highlights complexity of condo living

A woman who has a life-threatening allergy to cannabis lives in a condo where owners voted down a proposal to ban weed smoking in the units.

Board wrestles with residents' competing human rights after marijuana ban shot down

Adele Schroder has a potentially deadly pot allergy, but other residents of her Toronto-area condo are medical marijuana users, creating a case of competing human rights. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

A condominium corporation in Mississauga, Ont., is puzzling over how it can accommodate the conflicting medical needs of some residents as marijuana legalization looms.

In April, the condo board of Applewood Place tried to pass a rule that would ban growing and smoking marijuana in the building's units and common areas. Condo owners eventually voted it down.

This concerned resident Adele Schroder, 38, who, in her late teens, discovered she had a potentially deadly allergy to cannabis at a university party when people around her smoked up.

"My lips started getting tingly and my tongue started to swell," she said. Her eyes also got itchy and her nose started running. 

Schroder's friends took her to the hospital that night. She said she was eventually sent to a specialist, who determined she was allergic to cannabis and hemp.

Schroder, who also has severe allergies to latex, avocado, banana and mango, said she has largely been able to manage the cannabis allergy since then. As pot legalization looms, though, she has noticed a change in the habits of other residents in the building.

"Now that it's becoming legal it's leaking into the hallways, getting into the ventilation system. I can't control my environment."

So Schroder carries an EpiPen with her at all times, puts towels under the door, runs two air purifiers, never uses her balcony and largely avoids common areas except the laundry room. When she leaves the building, she said, she crosses the street at the first hint of the smell of pot.

"There's a good chance I could go into anaphylaxis and it could be a life-threatening situation."

Schroder doesn't leave her unit without her EpiPen, in case of an allergic reaction. (CBC)

Moving out of her modest condo is not an option, either. Schroder stopped working several years ago, after suffering a head injury in a car accident. She has been on disability benefits ever since, and would likely not be approved for a mortgage. 

Upon raising the issue with her condo board, a new problem presented itself. She discovered there were at least a few medical marijuana users in the building. Soon, it became an issue of competing human rights that lawyers say presents a unique challenge.

"It kept me up all night thinking. It's highlighting how unique these interactions are going to be," said Maria Dimakas, a lawyer representing the condo corporation. She says most smoking cases involve people who find the smell of tobacco or marijuana smoke to be a nuisance, which is covered under typical condo rules.

Competing human rights

But Schroder's situation is "life-threatening," she said. "Who is qualified to decide anything in the circumstances of people's rights and whose are more important than others?"

This adds another layer to the issue, as the lawyers now consider the situation a human rights issue, which essentially trump condo rules.

"It's a novel issue because corporations all over the city are doing non-smoking-in-unit rules," said Denise Lash, Schroder's lawyer. "But, we haven't really dealt with a situation in which boards are looking outside of rules to impose non-smoking in units."

Lawyer Denise Lash says this is the first case of competing human rights over pot she's come across. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Win-win solution

A human rights lawyer in Toronto says there isn't a "hierarchy" of rights.

"You look for a win-win solution," said Ryan Edmonds, who has consulted with Lash on the situation. "The win-win solution would be one where the person with a lethal allergy to smoke is not exposed to smoke and the person prescribed cannabis is able to continue consuming cannabis in a way that doesn't infringe on the other person's allergy or disability."

The condo board at Applewood Place is trying to find a way to accommodate both sides, which is complicated, according to board president David LaFayette.

"We have two competing sets of human rights here," he said. "We're wrestling through this."

We're wrestling through this.- David LaFayette, condo president of Applewood Place

LaFayette tells CBC Toronto the board is considering various options, including banning smoking marijuana on Schroder's floor and the floors above and below her, making structural changes to units in the building, and exploring whether the medical marijuana users are able to eat edibles or use oils.

All of these options require extensive consultation with physicians, contractors, engineers and specialized lawyers, which can get expensive.

"It's very tough because now we're starting to spend the residents' money," said LaFayette.

David LaFayette, president of Applewood Place, says the process to accommodate all residents could be costly. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

"If [nothing] works, the only thing I can possibly think of is to ask direction from a court to determine people's rights," Dimakas said.

Schroder hopes it doesn't get to that point, and instead, is hoping she can resolve the issue by compromising.

"I really love the community I'm in. I don't want to limit what people are doing in their own homes," said Schroder. "It's really stressful."

Clarifications

  • The condo board president originally told CBC News the board cannot try to pass the marijuana ban again for two years. That doesn't apply in this case, as that restriction only applies to rules that have been passed, which the proposed marijuana ban did not.
    Sep 20, 2018 3:22 PM ET

About the Author

Lisa Xing

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller, dabbling in camping, canoeing and crafting. Email Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.