A Winnipeg residence that was allegedly home to hundreds of legally-grown cannabis plants recently went up for sale without divulging the purported indoor marijuana garden, raising questions about what needs to be disclosed when a home used for drug production goes up for sale.
The Free Press reported on the bungalow in late 2018 after a next-door neighbour, a retired police officer, complained about the smell coming from the home.
Winnipeg police couldn't publicly confirm whether or not the house was being used to grow marijuana, but the neighbour said police told him the homeowner had a licence from Health Canada to legally cultivate 292 cannabis plants for medical purposes at the residence.
A man at the house in question, who identified himself as a resident but not the owner, acknowledged to the Free Press last November that cannabis was being grown inside.
'I think it's a real problem, and it's not very common but it's not totally uncommon as well'— Lorne Weiss, chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association's political action committee
The Free Press is not identifying the house in question, but this month it was listed for sale without any disclosure that it had been used to grow cannabis.
That listing was taken down last week, confirmed a Winnipeg real estate agent who originally represented the sellers but is no longer doing so. The broker, who did not wish to be named for fear of harming her professional reputation, said the listing's removal was unrelated to marijuana.
Dealing with houses that have been used to produce cannabis — legally or illegally — can be a thorny issue for real estate agents, according to realtor Lorne Weiss, chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association's political action committee.
"I think it's a real problem, and it's not very common but it's not totally uncommon as well," said Weiss.
The Manitoba Securities Commission requires that illegal drug production be disclosed in a real estate transaction, Weiss explained. But when home cannabis production is done within the boundaries of the law, like in cases where a seller has a personal medical cannabis production licence for a specific number of plants from Health Canada, the situation becomes more complicated.
"Because it's legal, there's no reason why the realtor should have to disclose that it was a (marijuana) grow-op, any more than somebody saying, 'You know what, I love growing African violets, and I've got hydroponics set up in the basement to grow African violets,'" Weiss said.
The seller in that situation might voluntarily disclose that cannabis was grown legally in the house, but is under no obligation to do so, Weiss added.
"Because it's not illegal, first of all, and there are privacy concerns in terms of disclosing the whereabouts of legal grow-ops."
For buyers, Weiss said the situation underlines the importance of asking the seller for a property disclosure statement, as well as insisting on a home inspection before closing.
Weiss said public-facing real estate listings don't show realtors' remarks on the properties, which might include details like whether or not the house was ever used for drug production. A realtor representing a buyer might see those remarks and flag them to their client, he said.
The federal government's personal medical cannabis cultivation program requires Canadians to obtain a medical authorization to use cannabis. Then they can register with Health Canada to grow their own, or designate someone else to grow it for them.
The personal production program has existed in various forms since 2001, and was upheld in federal court in 2016 after the then-Conservative government tried to dismantle it. Health Canada data shows 28,869 registrations for the program as of June 2019, with 1,312 registrations in Manitoba.
Since Ottawa legalized cannabis last October, Canadian adults may legally grow up to four cannabis plants per home for non-medical purposes. The governments of Quebec and Manitoba have outlawed the practice, although a recent court decision in Quebec overturned the ban on non-medical home cannabis cultivation in that province. (Quebec's government is appealing.)
Lorne Weiss of the Manitoba Real Estate Association said the group supported the Manitoba government's decision to ban non-medical home cannabis gardens, expressing concern about how authorities could enforce the four-plant limit and whether residents of multi-family buildings might be negatively impacted by cannabis plants being grown nearby.
If a court challenge or a future government changed Manitoba's ban, Weiss said MREA would accept it. But even if that happened, he said, home buyers could still ask sellers to disclose, as a condition of the offer, whether or not cannabis was grown in the house.
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.
Updated on Monday, October 21, 2019 at 6:13 AM CDT: Adds photo