Jun 2022
3 min

Common Cannabis Facility Construction Q's

Finding the right construction company for your cannabis dispensary, cultivation, or production facility is crucial. Having a subpar construction partner can leave you with flaws in your building, difficulties getting approved to operate and a delay in your timeline which means a delay in revenue. A well built cannabis facility is essential to the success of the overall business because it matters for workflow purposes and simple functionality on a day to say operational basis. From maximizing every square foot, and producing high-quality products to welcoming customers into a safe and secure environment, design and construction decisions have real and lasting implications.

The following frequently asked questions will help guide you through the entire construction process, from choosing a qualified construction team, to opening the doors of your new facility, and beyond.

What is a Cannabis Facility?

The term "cannabis facility" refers to any building used to operate a legally licensed cannabis business. This oculd be a dispensary retail location, a processing facility or a grow/cultivation facility. Even a lab or distribution center! Constructing a cannabis facility is a big job and is a key part in cannabis business planning and launch. The budget for construction is especially important because use it will be a large chunk of the startup capita need to start off on the right foot.

How to Evaluate Cannabis Facility Design-Build Partners

How do I find the right Design-Build team for my business and my facility? What roles and responsibilities need to be accounted for?

Finding the right design-builder is your primary decision, since many times the team will have a roster of trade partners they work with, particularly in a specific geographic area.  You should look for a design-build team with experience successfully delivering facilities like the one you envision, and then make sure there is a cultural fit between your executive team and the project leader.

The design-builder should show an ability to solve problems “on the fly,” since rapidly changing cannabis regulations will pose new and different challenges with every project.  They should also be adept collaborators, particularly with you, the architect, engineers and any trade partners that you suggest.

How should I evaluate my primary design-build partners?

First and foremost, hire someone with a track record of building facilities like the one you need.  That means hiring someone with cannabis industry experience, without question.

Once you’ve narrowed the field to experienced design-builder, look for an involved management team, a problem-solving mentality and a partnership approach.  Your design-build team should be as dedicated to the success of your business as you are.  Additionally, look for a design-builder with longstanding relationships with its trade partners. When COVID-19 hit, our strong trade partner relationships were a factor in keeping our projects on-track; we had back-ups where necessary.

What is the difference between traditional construction and design-build?

Design-build is a project delivery method that brings all design and construction disciplines to the table from the beginning of a project. This approach allows for collaboration, shared problem-solving and greater anticipation of needs.  

In a traditional construction model, the architect delivers a design, then it is handed over to a contractor as a finished product.  With design-build, the architect and contractor work in partnership from design through budgeting to bid, delivering the best of the combined experience and expertise.

If I choose design-build, can I still choose my own architect? What should I consider when choosing my architect?

Yes, in the design-build model, it is possible to choose your own architect, though many times the construction company will have architects they work with or employ, as well.  

When hiring an architect, consider both the firm and the designer who will be working with you.  Are they experienced in your type of facility? Is the project designer a good cultural fit for you and your team?  Will the designer be cost-conscious and collaborate smoothly with your construction partner?  

What are some common construction terms to understand?

Like many industries, construction has its own language. Here are a few key terms to understand:

The final steps before the delivery of space after a construction job. Sometimes ‘punch list items’ are those minor outstanding components requiring correction or completion after the space is delivered.

Change Order

An addendum to your original contract that acknowledges a change in budget, time and scope.


A construction approach where the building owner contracts with an architect, then separately hires a general contractor.


An approach to construction that includes engaging both the architect and the construction company from the beginning of the process.


A system whereby water and nutrients are delivered to plants via a centralized distribution area, which when properly designed can help scale up cannabis cultivation.


The abbreviation for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, which together control the ecosystem of indoor cannabis crops and represent one of the most important elements of constructing any cannabis facility.

Lighting controls

A critical construction element of any cultivation facility is the lighting controls. Lighting strategies are essential for growing high-quality, high-quantity plants and improving energy efficiency by controlling the artificial light your plant receives at the various stages of grow and harvest.

Scope of work

High level summary of the construction project that includes specifics related to every aspect of a project.

Critical path

The sequence of interdependent tasks that form the duration of a project or process. This will determine the most efficient timeline possible to complete your construction project.

enclosed cannabis cultivation room with lights, white ceiling, fans on the wall and cannabis plants growing abundantly
Cannabis cultivation facility by Cannabis Facility Construction

Hiring and Activating a Contract With a Design-Build Company

What are the industry standards for hiring a general contractor or design-build construction partner?

Contracts with your contractor can be structured in different ways.  You may have one contract for the design and build of your facility, or you may choose to have on contract with your construction company and a separate contract with your architect.  There are pros and cons to each contractual structure.  Regardless of how you structure the contract, the contractor will expect clear financial terms not only for the cost of building the facility, but also for what happens in the event the plans change.  It is very important to understand how “change orders” work, because they are a reality of any substantial construction or renovation project.

Pricing should always be clear, as well as the schedule of when you will be expected to deliver partial payments for “construction draws,” or allocation of funds used to pay subcontractors.  Some contractors will expect some payment upon start-of-work, then periodic payments during the construction process.

What is the right level of engagement for me as the business owner throughout the construction process?

Your facility is the backdrop for every aspect of your business, whether it’s a dispensary, cultivation facility or processing lab.  You should expect to maintain a proactive working relationship with your architect and general contractor throughout the design-build process, so your voice is clear and present as key decisions are being made.  Once decisions have been made, it’s important to let the GC manage the subcontractors without interference, so it typically makes sense to communicate through the team leadership rather than giving input directly to subcontractors.

How do I maintain healthy relationships with trade partners while avoiding overpaying for their work?

Your general contractor should be the primary point of contact for all trade partners or subcontractors; they are taking responsibility for the work, so need to manage other trades directly. However, making sure they consider your perspective and input is essential to the project’s success. It is important to set up shared expectations for communication frequency, team meetings and how you’ll communicate in the event of a needed change.

Picking trade partners is usually the general contractor’s role, but it’s understood that owners will periodically recommend a specific trade partner.  It is best if the trade partners have direction and coordination with the general contractor in lieu of direct with ownership, to keep all processes and goals aligned.

What do I need to know about union labor requirements?

If the project is in a city with a strong union presence, you may need to use union labor. Although it would not be a requirement, it would be recommended.  It would also be important as you are selecting a general contractor that they have relationships to deliver the job using trade partners that meet those labor requirements.  

Your contractor should be able to educate you on your jurisdiction’s preferred labor requests and the cost implications as it relates your project.  If you are considering multiple locations, consider the cost of labor as one of your important site selection factors.

What are some common mistakes owners make in the construction process?

Sometimes, owners choose a contractor or architect because they like their work on other building types outside the cannabis field.  However, there is no substitute for experience; a homebuilder may build beautiful buildings yet does not have field experience with lighting or HVAC systems.  An architect who designs retail spaces may not understand the unique customer experience or security requirements of a dispensary, given the restrictions of product displays and other aspects of the space.

Other common mistakes include not contemplating changes as adaptations as the industry and regulations change.  

a beautiful interior of a cannabis dispensary with wood beams, rustic furniture, polished flooring and a spacious open concept store design
Cannabis retail dispensary by Cannabis Facility Construction

Cannabis Facility Site Selection, Budgets and Schedules

How do I evaluate a site to make sure it will work for my cannabis business?

Your “site” may have an existing building on the property.  When choosing the site and/or building, your real estate broker can help you to consider local regulations, politics, cost, demographics and the competitive field of other cannabis operators.

In addition to those underlying geographic factors, it’s important to look critically at the building to envision the renovations you’ll need to make to make it work for your business.  Consider customer ingress and egress carefully.  How will product deliveries (in for dispensaries, out for cultivation and processing) happen?  What does the path for cash pick-ups look like? For processing labs and cultivation facilities, is the building and its electrical infrastructure capable of supporting your HVAC and lighting needs?

Site selection can be a considerable cost driver, from increased cost per square footage in desirable locations to requirements for union labor on any construction projects. Understanding how these factors come together will be an important driver of not only construction but business success.

How much should I expect to spend on my cannabis facility?

As noted above, location determines much of your cost basis as does building type; for example, a cultivation facility in a remote town well outside a metro area will cost less to lease or buy than a prized retail location in a well-trafficked neighborhood.   Location drives cost factors other than cost per square foot. If a location is difficult to access, for example, that could drive up construction costs.

Costs are typically higher for cultivation and processing labs than for dispensaries on a per-square-foot basis and they may cost more upfront given their larger footprint of size and may require additional equipment costs. On the retail side, costs should align with the customer experience you want to deliver. State-of-the-art systems and design in a large, open floorplan may cost more than a smaller, homier dispensary setting.

One factor that makes blanket estimates difficult is that craft growers and dispensaries are often renovating existing buildings. You have to know what you’re starting with in terms of existing buildings and raw materials and the overall project complexity before you can determine costs. That’s why it helps to have a knowledgeable partner to walk you through the possibilities. Every project is unique and needs to be approached based on its challenges and opportunities.

How long does it take to construct a cannabis facility?

We’ve renovated a space to become a small dispensary in less than a few months; conversely, it requires months to deliver a well-designed and quality cultivation facility, which many times includes a processing lab.   In Illinois, the time required to complete construction is affected by the time it requires to obtain local municipal approvals.

The six months that Illinois officials have been suggesting from the issuance of a license to an operating facility is, in our opinion, possible but ambitious.  That timeline could be met if the real estate is in-hand, the design work has been completed and the site is ready to renovate on day one when a license is issued. However, for most operators, there is still work to do once a license is issued, particularly for companies building their first facility. That is why it’s so critical that cannabis companies do their homework and hire a team that has experience to guide them through the entire process.  

What are some common causes of delays in the construction process?

Construction is a process with multiple dependencies. Building permits and building inspections, which happen on timeframes governed by local municipal officials, are by far the part of the process that we control the least.  Delays can also happen when materials are on back order, and as labor issues arise.  In general, we see fewer delays and faster timeframes when a design-build model is followed, and when materials other finishes can be ordered as early as possible during the process.

To mitigate the impact of delays, the most important factor is having a General Contractor who can adjust to a delay by offering alternative solution and who communicates with you, the client, throughout the entirety of the process.

Once the facility is turned over to my company to operate, does the contractor continue to be involved? Is there any follow-up or ongoing service that a contractor typically supplies?

There is not one approach to staying involved in the maintenance of the facility. Ongoing involvement is standard operating procedure for our company. It’s something to ask in your initial evaluation process.

Cannabis facilities are sophisticated environments that require certain know-how to maintain and address any issues that arise. Your average electrician or plumber may not understand the equipment you’ve invested in or how their solutions affect the ongoing operations of your business.

For us, continuing to consult on these spaces and fix problems as they arise is an essential component of building relationships with cannabis companies, which is our ultimate goal.


Like the cannabis industry, construction is nuanced and complex. Finding the right partner to help you navigate the process will go a long way to simplifying the endeavor, while avoiding common mistakes and keeping you informed along the way.

Interested in continuing the conversation to talk about the design-build of your cannabis facilities?


Article was contributed by a trusted cannabis facility design-build partner of Leafsheets

About the author:

Albert Marks is Director of Business Development for Cannabis Facility Construction. Acting as a liaison with the cannabis industry, Albert works directly with cannabis MSO’s, independents, and start-ups to determine their design and construction needs, budget and regulatory parameters, and then to ensure those needs are met. He leads analysis on marketing trends, relationship building and brand awareness within the industry while developing new business for the firm. Additionally, Albert leverages his digital marketing, social media, and client relations expertise to raise the value and image of the company’s blog and social media platforms.

Contact Albert Marks

Cannabis Facility Construction

425 Huehl Road, Unit 15B, Northbrook, IL 60062

P: 847.504.0177 | C: 615.218.8958

Follow Cannabis Facility Construction on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn

He can be reached at and on LinkedIn

About Cannabis Facility Construction

Cannabis Facility Construction is located in Northbrook, IL and with over eighty cannabis related projects (dispensary/retail locations, processing labs, and cultivation facilities) in process or completed in over twelve states, we are exactly what a cannabis organization needs. We are a trusted design-build partner: a national firm with local connections and outstanding supervision for each project.  

Services include:

  • Design and construction coordination
  • Site assessments including ingress and egress evaluation
  • HVAC systems evaluation and recommendations
  • Design, construction and trade partner management
  • Permitting management, including working with you on inspection readiness
  • Health and safety management during construction

About Leafsheets

Leafsheets is a cannabis business support and acceleration platform that is breaking the barriers to entry and success in cannabis business by simplifying cannabis entrepreneurship.  Leafsheets provides vital operating plans, business information, and answers to the most pressing questions --- all of which are usually hard to access and require spending tens of thousands of dollars on consultants.  Not anymore!  Get everything you need to be 10 steps ahead.

Leafsheets is an experienced business advisor and not a legal advisor. For legal advice, consult with a licensed legal practitioner in your state.

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