The U.S. Green Building Council issued a LEED Interpretation in 2018 ruling, “smoking of cannabis is considered a form of smoking for the purposes of both the interior and exterior smoking provisions of the LEED Prerequisite Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control.”

The LEED prerequisite prohibits smoking outside the building except in designated smoking areas located at least 25 feet from all entries and operable windows.

But the dramatic impact is that the prerequisite additionally requires one of two alternative means of compliance, the first of which simply prohibits smoking inside the entire building. The second option for residential uses is the compartmentalization of smoking areas, prohibiting smoking inside all common areas and minimizing “uncontrolled pathways for the transfer of smoke and other indoor air pollutants between residential units by sealing penetrations in the walls, ceilings, and floors and by sealing vertical chases (including utility chases, garbage chutes, mail drops, and elevator shafts) adjacent to the units.” Additionally a weather strip is required of all exterior doors and operable windows in the residential units “to minimize leakage from outdoors.” Which second option will result in significant additional first costs.

Increasing numbers of commentators on green building have questioned the 2018 Interpretation that conflates cannabis with “Tobacco.”

It is not only that thirty three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing cannabis in some form, including that the District of Columbia and ten states have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing cannabis for recreational use, but four of those ten are among the top for LEED certifications, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, and Massachusetts.

At a time when a review of the LEED project database reveals that LEED project registrations, in all rating systems, continues to decline and decline dramatically, alienating those would be cannabis users in those top LEED jurisdictions seems unsound as a business model if there is any hope of righting LEED registration.

Moreover, it is suggested that there is a strong positive correlation between the progressive individuals interested in LEED building and those interested in smoking cannabis.

Many have questioned why USGBC would announce such an interpretation that has been likened to this year’s trend of redefining motherhood versus last year’s redefining masculinity? Does it promote sustainability focused practices in the building industry?

The only justification offered by the trade group is “secondhand cannabis smoke has been shown to contain many of the same chemicals and carcinogens as secondhand tobacco smoke” citing to a single, more than 10 year old study, “A Comparison of Mainstream and Sidestream Marijuana and Tobacco Cigarette Smoke Produced under Two Machine Smoking Conditions” by Moir, et al., that admits, “There have been only limited examinations of marijuana smoke, including for cannabinoid content and for tar generation. There have not been extensive studies of the chemistry of marijuana smoke ..” which study has been criticized as junk science when misappropriated for this purpose, having not involved people or even animals, but rather was of burning leaves on a tray; and certainly not taking into account vaping or electronic cigarettes.

And yes, in a separate LEED Interpretation, USGBC ruled all “electronic cigarettes are considered a form of smoking for the purposes of both the interior and exterior smoking provisions of the LEED Prerequisite Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control” (.. whether or not there is an tobacco involved).

LEED Interpretation ID#10474 dated July 2, 2018 is difficult to appreciate from a market and implementation perspective. Supporters of LEED suggest if this substantive expansion of a prerequisite, that inexplicably defined “tobacco smoke” to include cannabis smoke, had been the subject of public review and balloting such would have allowed for a broader consideration of whether or not it was supported by good science, while also allowing a reasonable period for the market to phase the change in. The procedure and process of this substantive expansion of a prerequisite, not as an Addenda nor an Update nor during consideration of a Next Version of LEED, is the larger concern to many.

Note, the now being piloted but not yet balloted among the members, LEED v4.1 continues the cannabis ban for projects now registering.

In accordance with the GBCI Certification Agreement because “.. Your Project will be held to the Rating System Requirements that exist at the time Your Project is registered” this Interpretation does not apply to any LEED project registered before July 2, 2018. So, occupants in those LEED buildings may smoke cannabis (assuming laws allow such).

Significantly, for those considering new green building the 2018 IgCC, with no similar cannabis prohibition (.. despite being the product of the same ASHRAE Standard 189.1 that is to be used in the future development of LEED?), may present a good alternative for those not wanting to limit occupant behavior in the face of evolving widespread public sentiment.

“Federal and state laws [should] be changed to no longer make it a crime to possess marijuana for private use.” – Richard M. Nixon, 1972. Despite that statement, be aware that possessing, using, distributing and selling marijuana are all federal crimes and may be state crimes. Beyond the general disclaimer below about the purposes of the blog, this blog post is not intended to give you criminal law advice or for that matter, any legal advice.