Can unions help the marijuana industry?

That’s the intriguing question posed by John Ford in Marijuana Legalization: Why the Pot Business Needs Unions to Survive

Though the image of straight-laced hard-working blue-collar labor collaborating with hippy stoners doesn’t quite seem to match up, it is actually a match made in heaven. Labor union memberships have been flagging for some time, and they are in desperate need of a growth industry to latch on to. Meanwhile, marijuana dispensaries have both a branding problem (lacking legitimacy) and a lobbying problem (inability to organize), both of which unions can be of great help.

Another seemingly contradictory aspect of this situation is that labor is courting business owners, as opposed to fighting them. The simple explanation is that unions need new blood, and marijuana dispensaries are a fairly easy industry to work with. True to their hippy stereotype, trust-busting is not really something most dispensary owners are all that interested in. Plus, hundreds of thousands of new (labor) jobs, and billions of dollars, could be added to this industry in the next decade if legalization continues to reach new states and the federal government gives in on the issue. That’s a lot of new union dues to collect.

Drug policy reform has faced some uphill battles because of other unions (law enforcement, prison, etc.). Might be useful to have some of that organization on our side.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

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39 Responses to Can unions help the marijuana industry?

  1. Crut says:

    O/T: Looking for a video of this debate with our friend Kevin last night in Tampa, anybody see it?

    • allan says:

      don’t see a vid, but if you google it there are a few news reports. SSDP will hopefully get something posted.

      In an NBC piece:

      “That doesn’t seem to follow the hundred-year example of the FDA we have…where you go through proper clinical trials and clearly do it medically,” Sabet said.

      A hundred year example? Really Kev? Ya wanna go there? Then let’s look at all the FDA level clinical trials involved in the original banning of cannabis.

      • allan says:

        and props to Aaron Houston and SSDP for putting this debate together. A point to Aaron… don’t argue the prison numbers, argure Peter McWilliams, argue SWAT raids and cops killing pets, argue Patrick Dorismond and cops selling weed undercover, argue Kathryn Johnston and corrupt cops planting evidence, argue the abominal state level sentencing like Will Foster… but don’t play Kev-kev’s game. We have to push against Prohibition more than we (in drug policy reform) need to promote pot.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Is this the one you’re looking for? I’m not absolutely certain that it’s Mr. Sabet but it sure does appear to be him: My brain hurts

      No, never mind, there’s no way in heck that Mr. Sabet is smart enough to be a brain specialist. It was the prescribed treatment that had me fooled into thinking that was him. Perhaps that’s what happened to Mr. Sabet.


      From the “now that’s just plain funny” category:

      Q) I’ve always wondered, if they’re going to make certain plants illegal, why not criminalize poison ivy?

      A) Because then there would be more of it and no one likes poison ivy.

      (ripped off and modified from comments under:
      Marijuana, Both Legal And Illegal, Triggers License Confusion For Doctors, Cops)

    • Duncan20903 says:

      Here’s a link to the actual video, this time for eel:
      Marijuana debate packs University of Tampa forum

      • Duncan20903 says:

        Sorry, my bad, not the real video. Somebody else give it a try.

        • Crut says:

          In your defense, you did say it was the eel video…

          Thanks for the searching everyone, the video just wasn’t immediately available.

          I really wish we had a “shutdown” debate at which the rebuttals for Kev-kev’s arguments were ready to go. I.E.:

          Kev: “Project SAM sees this as a Health-issue”
          Resp: “Most health providers don’t carry a side-arm…”


    • Duncan20903 says:

      Is Toasted Head Wines a union shop?

    • John Chase says:

      I was there for the debate. The place was filled to capacity ~300 or more in the Fletcher Lounge. Mostly kids of course. The audience was EXTREMELY well behaved. No clapping even, until the wrap-up credits.

      Kevin was trying to sell the kinder-gentler drug war, but Aaron was having none of it, arguing against coercion as a policy. Kevin interrupted frequently and inundated us with a flood of words and numbers, reminiscent of a presention by Calvina Faye. (I was surprised to not see her anywhere in the room, even though her home base is just across the Bay, in St.Pete.)

      Aaron did an excellent job. The only place he hesitated was when asked if he wanted to legalize all drugs. He allowed that they should be looked at too. IMO a better answer would have been “Let’s see how it goes with legal marijuana and then decide”.

  2. claygooding says:

    I think unions will help because of their lobby powers and their ability to challenge drug screening laws,,,still waiting on someone suggesting they do that because of the “false” positives being reported continuously,,the loss of employment from a false reading still puts the employee under the microscope even if they prove the test was faulty.
    With states where marijuana is legal it would be a good fight to watch.

    • Cliff says:

      I think unions will help because of their lobby powers and their ability to challenge drug screening laws..

      Not being snarky or anything, but how has union representation helped the players in the NFL, NBA or MLB refuse or bargain away drug testing? It seems like drug testing is a given that no one will challenge. In labor negotiations, it seems like drug testing is a sacred cow which no one can bargain against lest you be labled irresponsible and wanting everyone to be stoned on the job.

      A lot of the drug testing which we have to endure or avoid is due to liability insurance requirements. One of the ways that insurance can refuse to pay for a claim is if drugs are determined to have been ingested sometime in the past (doesn’t matter if it wasn’t caused by actual impairment on the job). Drug testing is also a pretty good way for lazy employers to cull the hiring herd without giving a good reason to do so.

      • claygooding says:

        I figure the legalized states will be where the unions would take up the fight,,I know the present atmosphere doesn’t allow much challenge ground for them to stand on but the inert metabolite screening should be open too challenge when it is a legal activity.

        • Duncan20903 says:


          This one is really scary. This is the first time that I’ve heard of a whiz quiz flunked because of synthetic urine. On the other hand it was nice to see that all of the outsiders were clueless and decide that it was animal urine. Yes, I’m making an edumacated presumption.

  3. claygooding says:

    Debate on Legalization of Marijuana

    Baker Institute Viewpoints is a regular series on the Baker Institute Blog that presents an array of views on a single issue.

    The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington shifted the marijuana debate away from whether U.S. drug policy should change, toward what that change should be. Should regulation occur at the state or local level, and should retail points be publicly or privately run? What restrictions should be placed on advertising and age limits, and how should governments handle enforcement and taxation? Baker Institute drug policy experts tackled these questions in a series of blog posts on possible frameworks for regulating legalized marijuana.

    Read the posts in this series:

    “A bold new path: Moving beyond prohibition in Colorado and Washington” –
    Tom Heddleston, Ph.D., whose dissertation examined the formation and development of the medical marijuana movement in California

    “What is the best regulatory framework for legalized maraijuana?” –
    Gary J. Hale, nonresident fellow in drug policy

    “Optimal marijuana regulation” –
    Nathan Jones, Alfred C. Glassell III Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy

    More Baker Institute fertilizer.

  4. Chris says:

    I’m not too excited to see it. Happy to have the discussion though!

    The way I see it, unions exist for labor to reach agreements with employers that they otherwise would not be able to negotiate individually. That being the purpose of a union I’m not sure adopting one on a secondary reasoning is such a wise idea for the market. The “side effect”, if you will, of unions should be considered, but unions themselves shouldn’t be considered because of it.

  5. darkcycle says:

    Don’t have a position on Unions in our industry. Like anything else, there’s good and bad.
    O/T, looks like the Drug War is being integrated into the progressive agenda under the rubric of human rights. This is serious progress from just last year. If you remember, the Occupy Movement early in it’s inception eschewed drugs as an issue. Not wanting to be seen as “a bunch of druggies” seems to be less of a problem every day. Chris Hedges has this new one up, and even though it is on Private Prisons he actually mentions the toll of the drug war and calls for change. Was it REALLY only a few months ago we were lepers to everybody, including the “radicals”?

  6. divadab says:

    Unions? Well, at least in the lower mainland, anyone in the business is already in “The Union” (check it out on netflix if you haven’t seen it).

    I think it’s an interesting idea, but the practical reality is that the cannabis industry is a collection of eccentric independent hard-headed individuals (in the best tradition of the frontier – American as hell). Getting them to work together in a union would be IMHO like herding cats.

    Governments and monopoly capitalists like to deal with unions – the strange paradox of the marijuana industry is that it is a pure free market, without regulation. As soon as it enters the mainstream, it will be subject to government regulation and monopoly capitalist competition, and no longer operating as a free market. A formal Union is probably a necessity to deal with this changed environment.

  7. stlgonzo says:

    OT: SCOTUS Approves Search Warrants Issued by Dogs

    As if we needed more impetus to end prohibition II.

    • allan says:

      yeah… profane insults is all I could come up with. That they did it unanimously, w/o one dissenting vote, truly bites the big dog biscuit.

      Well I say they’re witches (sorry to you legitimate pagan types, StarHawk et al) so let’s tie ’em up and throw ’em in the water and see if they float or sink.

  8. Peter says:

    Drug warrior does an about face on MMJ, … interesting how when it’s someone else’s kid they want to put them in jail….
    but, credit where it’s due I suppose:

    • Duncan20903 says:


      FWIW I wasn’t impressed with the concept of medicinal cannabis until I had the sad opportunity to watch a dear friend take two years to expire from leukemia in 2002. Seeing is believing you know.

      • allan says:

        indeed mate indeed…

        Funny isn’t it? A dog’s woof passes the * Supremes (* = it’s still all profanity, sorry) yet a nation half full of folks vouching for the efficacy of a common plant used since before there was history (?) are all lying. That is just sooo weird. And consider we live here and we think it’s weird… no wonder the tribal folks didn’t melt into the pot so well.

        I continue to believe that Tim Leary’s great accomplishment was pointing out that entheogens and ganja act as de-conditioners. He had some cool friends (for awhile) too.

        A dog’s woof is worth more than a patient’s testimony. Wow… Aesop or one o’ them old fable writers would have fun w/ that one. Or perhaps a non-traditional Oldman Coyote storyteller like Peter Blue Cloud (if you like to enjoy your reading and haven’t read Peter’s work, check him out, it’s unique and funny stuff)(bawdy, irreverent and relevant!)

        [and yes, I know the topic is unions][but I digress]

        Had this continent’s indigenous residents unionized, Englanders would still be on a thin strip of coastal land in the NE (or if at all).

  9. Pseudonymous Blogger says:

    I am a member of UFCW Local 5’s Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division in Northern California. UFCW has done an enormous amount of political work to support our industry, and it is time for the industry to stand with UFCW. Of Local 5’s 36,000 members, only about 200 of them are medical cannabis workers. Our dues don’t come close to paying for the full-time staff that represents us, along with the thousands of man-hours and tens of thousands of dollars UFCW has donated to referenda campaigns in San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and throughout Colorado. UFCW also supported all major legalization campaigns since 2010, and was the lead coalition partner for Prop 19.

    We have an opportunity in the cannabis industry to join this union, and leverage its leadership and the political power that comes from being the 3rd largest union in the nation with 1.3 million members (and one of the largest donors and supporters of Obama’s reelection campaign) to finally see a fully legal taxed and regulated market for medical cannabis.

    No other organization with this much clout has come anywhere near this industry. It’s time for cannabis workers to get serious about joining UFCW, or they will not be able to continue to pour these resources into supporting this industry.

    Let’s be real, the reason that UFCW is standing with the cannabis industry is because it wants dues-paying members. If those don’t materialize to match the investment they are putting in this industry, they won’t continue this program.

    As for working conditions in the California cannabis industry, THEY ARE ATROCIOUS! I have never seen more violations of labor laws in any other industry I have ever worked. There are enormous levels of unprofessionalism from management, and workers have to fear being fired at any time because their boss is overmedicated or ate an edible the night before and is in a bad mood the next day. Salaries are often not paid on time, work schedules are not assigned in a reasonable fashion, and many employees are not trained in basic first aid, safety, and safe handling of food and medicine. Starting wages at dispensaries have gone from the $15 to $20 per hour range at Bay area dispensaries in 2009 to $10 or $12 per hour now.

    Yes, most employers let you get high on shift if you work at a dispensary, but that is no justification for an otherwise lousy work environment. Also, as for workplace drug-testing, our cannabis industry contracts specify that we can medicate on shift, and are exempt from cannabis-related drug testing. If a whole lot more cannabis workers joined our union, that would give a lot more leverage to our members at the “square” businesses we represent to agitate for the removal of cannabis from the tested for drugs at their place of work in their contracts, if they are a medical cannabis patient with valid doctor’s recommendation or live in a state with legal adult recreational use.

    This union is the best thing that has ever happened to the cannabis industry, because it brings something that we have enormously lacked in the past: credibility. Also, unions are democratic organizations. Every member of the union has a say in the leadership and direction of their individual Local and the International Union. If we want UFCW to stand with cannabis workers, we need to become part of the union and exercise our democratic rights as members. Remember, solidarity is a two-way street.

    I urge the all workers in the cannabis industry to visit to find your Local, and start organizing your shop today. If you are a cultivator, trimmer, or edible and concentrates manufacturer in California, but don’t work for a dispensary, you can join UFCW Local 5 as an associate member. What are you waiting for?

  10. I have been a union worker at two different times in my life; in 1967 (magazine printing factory) and 1974 (labor union, laying sewer pipe). Both times I was taken aside by the crew leader and chastined for working too fast, and given several legal ploys (in the union contract) to waste time. I have never forgotten the experiences, and both left me believing unions put efficiency and hard work at the bottom of the list, with mistrust of management at the top.

    Unions have outlived their usefulness, in my opinion. And it seems that many Americans agree, witnessed by the many setbacks unions have suffered (Wisconsin being just one example). No doubt there will be union and non-union pot shops. Even if we accept both will produce the same quality, it’s a good bet non-union pot will be cheaper.

    • allan says:

      I think more like we are re-shaping notions of “union.” We live in a union. If you’re married you’re in a union.

      There have always been guilds and associations, unions… but look at marriage. Numbers are down, failure is at half… the states, well the states… that’s a union in more trouble than it wants to admit… and the workers’ unions, as pointed out, are in decline.

      We are no longer on the cusp of change. We don’t have a ways to go… we’re here. If people stick together, the trappings will all get sorted out. It’s kinda like Hitchcock’s “mcguffin,” we all know the bomb is under the table but the actors ignore it. Only unlike Hitchcock, this isn’t a movie and there is a bomb under the table… that is the perfect storm on the horizon, coming towards us. And we know big rocks do fall from the sky.

      Workers’ unions will evolve, along with the rest of us. Should they become involved? They are involved. Which is a lot more than we can say for the majority of politicians. The same politicians that trust a dog’s woof more than a pothead’s word (not using the word pejoratively). WTFever…

  11. Pingback: Can unions help the marijuana industry? - Drug WarRant - Young Hector

  12. Deep Dish says:

    Marijuana tourism is on the way to Colorado, under a recommendation made Tuesday by a state task force to regulate the drug made legal by voters last year. But Colorado should erect signs in airports and borders telling visitors they can’t take pot home, the task force recommended.

    I think the signs may be a good idea, although medical patients do fly with marijuana between reciprocal states, so now there’s nothing to stop fun enthuasiasts from flying from Denver to Seattle.

    Tourists could see purchasing caps though, possibly as low as an eighth of an ounce per transaction… “We could attract greater federal scrutiny and displeasure of our neighbors,” if marijuana flows across state lines.

    An eighth is very low, but I think for most fun enthuasiasts it would be enough for a one week vacation and the low limit does help establish the image of responsible moderation, easing the worries of soccer moms. In time, the limit will increase. It’s comical reading stoners against legalization say things like “Regulations are coming! Be careful what you wished for!”

    Task force members were less successful agreeing to recommendations on marijuana growing and public use. Colorado’s marijuana law allows home growing but requires plants to be in a locked, secure location out of public view. The task force couldn’t agree whether a “locked” and “secure” location would mean a backyard surrounded by a fence, or whether an enclosure such as a shed or greenhouse should be mandatory.

    One of the task force’s most vocal marijuana critics, Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson, worried that backyard pot gardens would need more than a chain-link fence to keep kids out.

    Not all task force members agreed. User advocate Meg Sanders said the covering requirement wouldn’t be fair to rural Coloradans.

    “I think it goes too far in restricting what people can do on their own private property,” Sanders said.

    I always imagined a shed or greenhouse. I suppose a fence with circular barbed wired might be secure enough, but it’s hard to imagine people’s backyards looking like prisons.

    Public use also prompted a dispute that wasn’t resolved Tuesday. Jackson and others wanted to ban marijuana use on publicly visible patios, porches and backyard. Marijuana activists chafed. “So I can drink a beer on my porch? But I can’t smoke a joint?” asked marijuana advocate Christian Sederberg.

    State Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said lawmakers would hesitate to regulate something legal people do on private property. What about backyard grills that send the smell of hamburgers into the nose of a neighbor who’s vegetarian?, she asked.

    “I don’t know how far we want to go telling people what they can’t do on their own porches,” she said.

    Any takes on this? I want to say private property should be private consumption, but I’m not a lawyer.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Purchasing limits for people from other States would certainly see the issue before the SCOTUS forthwith but only because it’s so blatantly unconstitutional. Both Constitutions too. Political grandstanding is no reason to panic sunshine. Just like the clown in Idaho with his laughably absurd proposal “permanent” criminalization those pushing this proposal are just blowing wind off the wall. Of course there is a remote possibilities that these lawmakers simply want to reserve the gray market profits to residents of Colorado.

      I admit that I’d like to see our lawmakers quit proposing violations of long settled law just so they can assume an air of faux authority for their constituents.

  13. Servetus says:

    O.T. The Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee has approved a new anti-marijuana resolution:

    More than 150 people – including teens sporting red “Don’t let Idaho go to pot” t-shirts – packed a Capitol auditorium Wednesday to weigh in on a resolution affirming the state’s position against use of marijuana in any form. The resolution doesn’t create any new state laws.

    …law enforcement and doctors backing the measure decried pot as a gateway drug that dangerously impairs users.

    Law enforcement officers were involved in the two-hour debate, and all they could come up with is obsolete gateway nonsense. The comments section could use some help.

    • allan says:

      that’s part of why I lived in Ideeho for only a year. I had a good job too, but ign’ant folks were far too common so I up and skee-daddled outta there.

      • Servetus says:

        You and a million other people. The brain drain from there is intense.

        • Duncan20903 says:

          Stupid people have to live somewhere. I say we give them Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

        • darkcycle says:

          My first wife is in Idaho. I can give you all some very sound advice. Best just to avoid the entire State, and be glad that other fools have to do the suffering. Really.

        • Servetus says:

          Hunter S. Thompson picked the same three locations. There are regional exceptions.

          The ski resorts in Idaho, Blaine County, Hailey, are marijuana tolerant. As are the artists’ colonies in Montana, who are largely responsible for medical marijuana being available in the state, much to the mortification of the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian folks in Billings.

          Wyoming is pretty much a lost cause. The state has a natural resource based economy, and a local population that doesn’t seem to understand that ‘clean coal’ is a contradiction in terms.

        • darkcycle says:

          Servetus…I assume you’ve seen “Napolean Dynamite”, no? Were you aware it was a documentary?

        • Servetus says:

          How sad. It was filmed in Franklin, Idaho, a farm town situated on the state’s SE border with Utah, according to the data. Filming was also done in Richmond, Utah. Budget $400,000. Grossed $46.1 million. Not bad for a documentary.

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