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Unions in the Cannabis Industry

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Unions in the Cannabis Industry

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Labor unions are active in many areas of the country and extend to various trades and markets. In 2019, the percentage of wage and salary workers who were members of unions was 10.3%. Many Americans have strong opinions of unions, and state laws determine their existence and procedures. The cannabis market is no exception, and persons on both sides of the topic are equally as passionate about cannabis workers and budtenders unions as unions from other industries like the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming have state laws prohibiting union security agreements between employers and labor unions.

The Purpose That Cannabis Unions Could Serve

Originally, labor unions were created as a way to save the working class from occupational abuses such as extremely long hours and unsafe working conditions. When applied to the new and ever-expanding industry of cannabis, it is no surprise the topic of unions is discussed, especially in states where unions are strong. With projected growth up to a $75 billion dollar industry by 2030, cannabis worker unions and budtenders unions are becoming popular ways to organize members, ensure employment is conducted in a legal manner, and offer access to group health insurance, however, cannabis’s status as federally illegal has translated state-by-state approaches.

A prominent figure in the world of unions is the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union. First founded in June 1979, the UFCW has organized cannabis workers across the U.S. since 2011 including workplaces such as growing and training facilities, dispensaries, bakeries, patient identification centers and hydroponics stores. Another union for MMJ employees is the United Cannabis Workers (UWC), a union composed primarily of independent workers, self-employed workers, businesses and business owners working in the cannabis industries. This group created the very first National Cannabis Workers Pension Fund, and offers typical benefits and resources found in other unions to anyone working in the cannabis industry.

 Pros and Cons of Unions:

  • Pro: unions have a long history of mediating better wages and benefits, safe working conditions and access to resources.
  • Pro: assistance with job security and longevity, especially important during a pandemic.
  • Pro: unionization is a true sign a cannabis company is a legitimate business.
  • Con: discrimination can exist within the organization.
  • Con: union vs. nonunion employees can be divided.
  • Con: payment is often required to be part of a union.

Recently, two cannabis dispensaries were in the news for unionizing: DC Holistic Wellness, the first 100% solely Black-owned cannabis dispensary in Washington, D.C., whose owner Norbert Pickett said “We’re proud to be the first 100% solely Black-owned, operated and financed medical cannabis dispensary in D.C. Now, we are particularly proud to be the first fully unionized cannabis shop in the District offering employees greater pay, paid time off and paid holidays, as well as retirement plans, additional accredited training and health care insurance.” 

The second dispensary, Stiiizy-Mission, is located in California, is hoped to set a precedent for cannabis workers and budtenders unions. Audie Vergara, Director of Corporate Communications for the Shryne Group, which operates the Stiiizy-Mission dispensary, offered optimism that what’s happened at the Stiiizy-Mission store will be embraced by more players in the industry. “We think having a strong labor voice at the table at the beginning of a new industry will help demonstrate a successful partnership that helps reward everyone taking part in the expansion,” Vergara said. It is to be noted the state of California requires businesses of a certain size to enter into a labor peace agreement.

Unions have also reached the cultivation side of the business; recently, employees at a Cresco Labs facility in Fall River, Massachusetts, completed the process to unionize. Per a news release, “an overwhelming majority of workers” were officially certified by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328, which now allows the employees to negotiate a union contract. “We applaud cannabis workers for forming unions to make sure that, as this industry grows, workers are able to share in the success,” said Timothy Melia, president of UFCW Local 328. “The cannabis industry should be a place where workers earn a living wage, have access to affordable health care and protection from unfair discipline and discrimination.” According to the union, more than 10,000 cannabis workers nationwide have joined the UFCW at laboratories, processing and manufacturing facilities, cultivation facilities and medical and adult-use dispensaries.

Follow CannaCon, the nation’s leading business-to-business cannabis conference, on social media for insight from both sides on cannabis workers unionization as well as other topics current in the cannabis industry.

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