Berkeley City Council moves to establish retail cannabis nursery licenses

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Masao Yabusaki’s family nursery sold bonsai trees and garden plants in the city of Berkeley since his grandparents immigrated to the United States, and while the business had to shut down in 2014, Yabusaki will now likely get the chance to reopen it with a license to sell cannabis plants, City Council decided Tuesday.

The family nursery may now become a retail cannabis micronursery, one of the first such businesses in California to sell cannabis plants and seeds to the public. The new business model is part of a slate of new ordinances voted in at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, which will establish licenses for retail nursery microbusinesses.

Under state law, cannabis growers have only been allowed to operate as wholesale suppliers for other cannabis businesses and have been prohibited from selling to individual customers. For years, Yabusaki — currently working as a consultant for cannabis cultivators — has petitioned the city and advocated at commission meetings to permit legal, public-facing nurseries as a way to revive his family’s West Berkeley shop.

“I’ve seen this industry go from the illicit market into the legal market, and all this hard work is finally paying off,” Yabusaki said. “At first it was, like, ‘Grandson is growing weed in the closet’ — because that’s how it started — and later, (my grandmother) decided to let me use the land and make history.”

For the past five years, the nursery has remained shuttered after Yabusaki’s aunt, who ran the garden with his father, died after being diagnosed with leukemia. A strong believer in cannabis’s medicinal potential, Yabusaki decided to step into the burgeoning industry. Having initially run into an “old-school mentality” among family members, the third-generation entrepreneur mentioned at the meeting a project he is collaborating on with his father: developing a cannabis bonsai tree.

After formal approval and a 30-day implementation period, Yabusaki hopes to acquire a micronursery license and reopen by the middle of summer 2019.

“State law now precludes marijuana collectives,” explained Councilmember Kate Harrison. “That’s how people got their plants. We aren’t supposed to do that anymore, so (micronurseries are) a way people can get plants.”

The ordinance creating a permit system for such nurseries was one of four approved for a first reading late Tuesday night. The meeting lasted until 12:15 a.m. early Wednesday morning because of last-minute tweaks to the ordinances, which will clarify and shape the city’s cannabis business landscape. The ordinances will be formally approved at a future meeting as a second reading.

Other changes to the city’s cannabis regulations will require health warning signs inside cannabis shops, implement restrictions on advertising and put a moratorium on approving additional dispensaries for three years. City code currently allows for up to seven dispensaries in the city.

The city deferred discussion on potentially allowing lounges where people could consume cannabis inside dispensaries and altering school buffers — which determine where a dispensary can or cannot be located — to a second phase of the cannabis ordinances process.

Brandon Yung is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.