First of its kind: Cannabis seed bank opens in Chicago

MoneyTree Genetics storefront in Irving Park, Chicago. (Damita Menezes/MEDILL)
MoneyTree Genetics storefront in Irving Park, Chicago. (Damita Menezes/MEDILL)

By Damita Menezes
Medill Reports

A new store has opened in Irving Park, becoming one of the first physical stores in the country to sell cannabis seeds.


Thomas Wilson, Money Tree Genetics co-owner: We are at MoneyTree Genetics, Chicago, Illinois.

Damita Menezes: When people grow cannabis at home, they generally buy seeds online, not knowing anything about where it comes from or its legitimacy. Now a new store in Irving Park is one of the first physical stores in the country to sell cannabis seeds.

Wilson: That was a big part of our model, being the first, offering a store that people could walk into, understand the relationship with who they’re buying their products from and understanding that we kind of broker them with companies that are actually licensed and have COAs and provide proper paperwork with everything. And being transparent seems to be the winning part of the model.

Menezes: The opening of the business was prompted after the DEA in January last year confirmed that cannabis seeds could be sold freely. Shane Pennington was the attorney who reached out to the DEA for clarification because many people were uncertain.

Shane Pennington: After the 2018 Farm bill was enacted, that made clear that hemp, as defined under that statute, is not a controlled substance, carved it out of the definition of marijuana with an H in the Controlled Substances Act. The way that it defined hemp was basically any cannabis material below a certain Delta nine tetrahydrocannabinol threshold. It’s hemp. It’s not a controlled substance.

Menezes: Pennington emailed the DEA asking if seeds are unregulated since they have less than 0.3% THC. The DEA responded with an official determination that cannabis seeds fall under the legal definition of hemp and therefore are not regulated.

Pennington: If I have an official determination from DEA itself, then people will believe me. And so I wrote the letter. They wrote back, said, “Yep, you’re right.” And then people believed it.

Menezes: With seeds primarily being sold online, the owners of MoneyTree Genetics took their 30 years of experience in the industry to open the first brick-and-mortar store in the country.

Wilson: Now that we’re here, we’re seeing everything from the 18-year-old Illinois medical card patient who’s using home growing to create their own medicines for Crohn’s disease and anxiety to the 82-year-old woman at the retirement center up the street who wants to cultivate on her balcony this spring.

Menezes: Even though Chicago law prohibits home growing for non-medical cannabis patients, the DEA’s definition supersedes the city law. So if you’re 21 and above, you don’t need a medical license card to buy from the store and grow weed.

Wilson: The feds basically say it’s OK. But a lot of people’s individual states, that verbiage hasn’t necessarily trickled down yet. But most of us operate on the premise that, you know, federal supersedes state.

Menezes: In addition to selling seeds, they also offer genetic testing. And the owners will also teach you how to grow healthy cannabis plants.

Wilson: We’re doing pretty well, and we seem to be embraced very good by the community, and people are accepting the authenticity.

Menezes: With the opening of such a store, the cannabis industry might experience a new wave of seed storefronts opening across the country. In Irving Park, I’m Damita Menezes, Medill Reports.


Damita Menezes is a graduate student in the video & broadcast specialization. Connect with her on her website