Tomato plants? Check. Cucumber seeds? Check. Cannabis seedlings? Nope.
Throughout the country, more home gardeners in states where cannabis is legal are interested in buying marijuana plants and trying to grow their own. But as one Berkeley, CA, family has discovered, providing cannabis plants to the public isn’t as easy as it seems.
The currently shuttered Dwight Way Nursery, owned by the Yabusaki family, was a mainstay for East Bay gardeners for generations. The family-run operation, which has been a nursery for over 120 years, specialized in bonsai. But the nursery closed in 2014 following the death of a family member.
The family still lives on the property, and last year expressed interest in reopening—with a plan to apply their horticultural skills to cannabis by creating a retail cannabis nursery.
In April, after several years of push-and-pull with the Berkeley City Council, it appears that the Yabusakis will be able to move forward with their nursery. The reincarnation of their business will enable the public to purchase marijuana seeds and plants directly from the grower, a retail activity that required the city council to create and approve a brand-new ordinance. Some reports claim that if approved, the Yabusaki’s nursery will be the first of its kind in the United States.
In states like California, where some counties allow their residents to grow a limited number of cannabis plants for personal use, the only way to access seeds and plants is by buying them through dispensaries.
Dispensaries must buy their plants from licensed cannabis nurseries, which can’t sell directly to the consumer. There are many types of garden centers, which stock cannabis-related supplies and employ staff knowledgeable about marijuana.
Still, the trend toward normalization in terms of access to cannabis seeds and plants continues to lag behind other aspects of marijuana legalization.
So, why is it so hard for regular folks to buy cannabis plants?
Take a look at the California laws that nurseries must comply with. Unlike other agricultural crops, cannabis cultivators and retail sellers must follow an extremely complex set of rules to operate within the state’s legal framework—many rules that don’t apply to other forms of agriculture. Some of these include:
The cost for a family like the Yabusakis to bring their business into compliance will undoubtedly be in the tens of thousands of dollars, if not significantly more.
In Michigan, home growers now have the opportunity to grow a plant or two, but currently, regulations prohibit cannabis seed sales.
Aspiring growers may take the risk of purchasing marijuana seeds online. But shipping those seed to a Michigander’s home is a violation of federal law and will continue to be so until 2020.
If you live in a legal cannabis state, marijuana seeds are available at many dispensaries. But if you live in a state without legal cannabis laws on the books, you face the same legal risks as those who live in Michigan.
And in states like New York, the marijuana legalization debate is running hot and heavy. They’re already discussing regulating the purchase of cannabis seeds and clones.
In the case of the Yabusaki family, the Berkeley City Council was more inclined to give a thumbs-up to the new business venture. This is because of the family’s good standing with the community and their proven expertise running a horticultural business. The family has already been “hardening” the property—making it less visible to prying eyes and bolstering security.
Proponents of the project point to the importance of normalizing cannabis culture. A cannabis nursery, they say, will continue the effort to bring the plant out of the shadows of criminality while creating more access for home gardeners.
And because the per-pound price of cannabis has plummeted in legal states, the motivation for thieves to steal seedlings, grow the plants, and process and sell them seems unlikely.
Attend local city or county meetings: Stay on top of the changes that are the most impactful for you: the regulations adopted by your local jurisdictions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and become an advocate for those like the Yabusaki family, who are trying to bring employment and a quality business to their hometown.
Buy from reputable cannabis seed supply companies and dispensaries: If you live in a legal cannabis state, see what your local dispensary offers. In legal states, marijuana plant and seed sales are heavily regulated. This means you have a high likelihood of purchasing seeds or plants that have been tested for pesticides and guaranteed to be the strain you want to grow. Many dispensary owners were and are farmers and bring years of agricultural experience to their growing operation.
Talk to your local garden shop about the best plants to grow: Hydroponic plant stores that sell soil, indoor garden supplies and other cannabis growing items are usually excellent sources of information about where to buy plants. They’ll often be able to suggest the best marijuana strains for your unique situation.
If you’re curious about the Yabusaki’s cannabis nursery, they hope to reopen for business some time in the summer of 2019.
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