Op-ed: Berkeley City Council should allow ‘nursery only’ dispensaries

Cannabis nurseries can provide an alternative to industrial crop production.

After years of excellent work by the Medical Cannabis Commission, the Berkeley City Council is scheduled to consider two new chapters for the municipal code on January 31. Berkeley residents who favor sound, sensible and equitable cannabis policy should pay attention.

The chapters under discussion involve allowing medical cannabis cultivation facilities to be established in the city’s Manufacturing (M) District (Chapter 12.25), as well as those governing how medical cannabis operations are defined (Chapter 12.23).

This is important because the decisions before the council will structure this industry locally, helping to determine the types of businesses and cooperatives that will thrive in the coming years.

Our organization, Solidarity Nursery Cooperative, hopes to open a storefront cannabis nursery and seed library in Berkeley. We are incorporated as a worker cooperative and plan to sign a recognition agreement with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). We hope to bring good union jobs to the city, employing local folks and benefiting the wider community while remaining unbeholden to outside venture capital.

A nursery would be a very low-impact business. We’d happily adhere to responsible security and zoning requirements. Our storefront will double as a community resource center, where we will provide classes on growing from seed, hand pollination and seed saving, permaculture techniques, and organic pest control and cultivation processes.

We want to encourage sustainability, environmentalism, and better alternatives to industrial crop production and monocropping in cannabis cultivation. Under the model we envision, we’d also sell companion plants like dill, chives, and chrysanthemums for organic pest control, cover crops like comfrey and clover, and a small selection of basic gardening supplies.

We hope to foster self-sufficiency and emphasize the proven health benefits of gardening. Community members will be able to buy starter plants, discuss their experiences, and become more engaged in the political process.

We also will create a seed library and give away heirloom and landrace seeds free of charge to our members in order to maintain genetic diversity in the public domain and to lower the barrier of entry for home cultivation.

These are all aims and endeavors that fit squarely into Berkeley’s historic role on the forefront of green initiatives, and ones that should be supported in the emerging regulatory environment. We ask that the City Council add a definition for a “Nursery-Only Dispensary” to Chapter 12.23.020.K as “a Dispensary, the primary activity of which is to produce clones, immature plants, seeds, and other agricultural products used specifically for the planting, propagation, and cultivation of medical cannabis,” and to direct staff to create an application process.

The California cannabis industry is changing dramatically as it moves to a fully regulated market. Many of the same destructive practices found in traditional corporate agriculture are starting to take hold. We hope that the City of Berkeley will continue to support community-focused social-purpose cannabis organizations, and empower home cultivators to grow medicine at home by adding “Nursery-Only Dispensaries” to Chapter 12.23.

Rick Kelley, Matthew Witemyre, Natalie Koski-Karell are the owner-operators of the Solidarity Nursery Cooperative