But as the industry matures, many executives believe that tenants and investors spending big money on such projects could soon find themselves underwater. Ultimately, the theory goes, growers are likely to turn to less expensive greenhouses. And if federal regulations about the transportation of marijuana loosen, dispensaries in Boston could soon sell buds grown in California greenhouses.
There is also a lingering threat that the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, could crack down on the burgeoning industry. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has already expressed his disdain for the legalization movement.
But for now, those concerns are being tossed aside for what looks like a can’t-lose opportunity for everyone involved: Building owners can charge above market rates, real estate groups can profit by subleasing to growers, and growers can make enough money to afford the steep rents.
So far, the uptick in property prices from the marijuana business is concentrated in some of the states that have legalized medical and recreational use. And in some places, the industry is only getting started because voters made their decision just a few months ago.
Maine’s law allowing recreational cannabis use took effect in January. Factories and warehouses near Portland that once produced and stored parts for model homes, steel beams and tires are already filled with budding marijuana plants. “These are factories that were sitting empty,” said Drew Sigfridson, a local broker with the Boulos Company.
In California, a state that approved medical marijuana in 1996 and recreational use in November, greenhouses in Monterey County that once produced roses and tulips now grow marijuana plants with names like Grape Ape and Buddha’s Sister. Chuck Allen, a commercial broker with Keller Williams Realty who works in Monterey, said that in the last few years, more than 20 major transactions worth roughly $100 million have closed, and prices are on the rise.
“Last year, you’d have paid about $2.5 million for a 10-acre parcel with greenhouses,” he said. “Today, you’d pay $5 million.”
And in Quincy, Ermont is paying a premium for its unglamorous space. Ermont took over the building in 2014, though it began selling marijuana to the public only late last year. Before opening its doors, Ermont paid rent on the warehouse for two and a half years.
During that time, Ermont gutted the building, spending about $4 million installing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, as well as lighting, gas and insulation. Walls were torn down, and the floor plan was reconfigured to accommodate several large grow rooms, a retail space and a laboratory straight out of “Breaking Bad,” where in-house scientists distill potent cannabis oils.
“It was a full renovation, including the roof and resurfacing the outside,” said Scottie Gordon, Ermont’s chief operating officer. “We knew it was going to be very expensive. This wasn’t just another greenhouse.”
Denver’s Not the Only Winner
Denver has emerged as America’s de facto pot capital. Since Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012, hundreds of stores selling pot have opened, and enormous growing operations have set up shop. Legal cannabis sales topped $1 billion in the state last year.
The impact on the local real estate market has been equally big.
From 2009 to 2014, 36 percent of new industrial tenants were marijuana businesses, according to the report on the city from CBRE Research, a commercial real estate company. Nearly four million square feet of industrial space was being used for cultivation in 2015, according to the report, about 3 percent of the city’s warehouse space. Warehouse vacancy rates in Denver fell to just 3.7 percent in 2015, down from 7.5 percent in 2010.
The industry has taken especially deep root among the low-slung warehouses in north Denver. Buildings used for growing marijuana are easy to spot — many are distinguished by extra lights and security cameras. But “I wouldn’t have to point it out,” said Brian Vicente, a partner at Vicente Sederberg, a Denver law firm that specializes in marijuana issues. “You can smell it.”
Retail spaces are just as hot. By 2015, there were upward of 200 marijuana stores in Denver, occupying high-end storefronts and former gas stations.
The spike in demand has been good for landlords, who often charge two to three times market rates for spaces used for cultivation or sales.
“It’s a tax these guys are used to paying because it’s still federally illegal,” Mr. Vicente said.
Denver’s boom stands out, and marijuana has become such big business that an abundance of supply is starting to bring down retail prices, which could ultimately bring down real estate prices.
But Denver is certainly not alone. The growth has become widespread enough, and with generous enough profits, to attract some of the country’s most prominent real estate investors.
Alan Gold was chief executive of BioMed Realty Trust, which leased out space to life sciences companies, until it was sold to the private equity titan Blackstone for $8 billion in 2015. Now he is a co-founder of Innovative Industrial Properties, a real estate investment trust that buys buildings, renovates them and leases out space to medical marijuana growers.
The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange last year and is valued at roughly $60 million, down about 10 percent since it began trading. “We’re really the first cannabis-related I.P.O.,” Mr. Gold said.