Smoke ’em if You Got ’em: 4 Questions to Ask When Selling Commercial Real Estate in the Marijuana Era

In 2018, Michigan citizens overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1 to legalize recreational marijuana. While medicinal marijuana has been legal in Michigan for several years now, the recreational marijuana law will certainly expand the availability of the drug across the state. But what does that mean for the Michigan business community?

Legalization will impact your business, even if your business has nothing to do with the burgeoning marijuana industry. Recently, there have been a number of publications that counsel owners on the proper way to handle marijuana in the workplace. For instance, more access to marijuana means you will need to revisit your drug policies and make sure everyone is aware of the rules. This impact is rather obvious – but there are other effects on your business that are not as intuitive, but just as important. These “hidden” impacts may surprise you.

For example, you might be surprised that legalization presents a whole host of unique issues when buying or selling real estate. Imagine you are a small auto parts manufacturer located in the city of Pontiac. One of your facilities is in an area that will be zoned for marijuana dispensaries. A weed entrepreneur approaches you and presents a buy-sell agreement offering a significant premium.

Warning – this is not like every other real estate buy-sell! Consult with your attorney and accountant to ensure that you are adequately protected. At a minimum, here are 4 fundamental questions to ask before signing off:

  1. Do you have adequate assurances from the buyer before entering into the “due diligence” period? Perhaps the biggest variable related to the marijuana industry is regulatory approval. The prospective weed entrepreneur must obtain licenses and approvals on both the state and local levels before they can open up shop. There may be local zoning hurdles to overcome as well. The licensing process may take 6-8 months or longer. Accordingly, as a seller – how long are you willing to wait? What are the risks to your ongoing operations during the due diligence period? Is the buyer depositing an adequate earnest money deposit to bind you to the sale? Increased uncertainty may warrant a greater down payment or non-refundable deposit to compensate the seller.
  2. Does the chosen title company handle marijuana-related transactions? Not all title companies will issue a policy where the transaction involved a marijuana-related business. Right now, this is more of a matter of policy rather than the law. However, right now, Westcor appears to be one of the few major insurers that will insure title in a marijuana business property sale. And even they have limits as to the amount of the policy. The worst thing that you can do is deceive your insurer on the nature of the buyer or fail to disclose this critical fact. Like any other kind of insurance, a misrepresentation will likely void any policy and may lead to conflict and even litigation down the road between the parties.
  3. How are you getting your purchase price? You probably already know that federally-regulated banks (which is pretty much all of them) do not accept funds from marijuana-related businesses. This is because while marijuana may be legal under state law, it is still a Schedule-1 prohibited substance (like heroin or cocaine) on a federal level. Accordingly, do not expect the typical wire transaction to work. Rather, your buyer might bring a cashier’s check for a large amount to the closing. Maybe they even want to pay in cash. Be sure to address exactly how the purchase price will be paid well in advance of closing.
  4. Are you violating any other lease or covenant? This is where it is especially critical to involve your attorney. Imagine a situation where you own a strip mall with several tenants and a marijuana business approaches you to either purchase or lease on the of the units. Did you know that selling or leasing to them might violate your leases with the other tenants? Frequently leases for a unit in a strip mall have a covenant that prohibits a landlord from leasing or selling a unit to an entity engaged in “illegal” activity. Again, marijuana is still “illegal” as a matter of federal law. Further, do you have a mortgage on the property? Does the mortgage prohibit “illegal” activity? Last thing that you want in an inadvertent default on either your other leases or to your bank under some obscure provision in a financing document.

Contact attorney Dan Artaev today at dan@artaevatlaw.com or by phone or text at (269) 930-0254.

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