The recreational cannabis industrytrying has generally been very kind to the workers – because the state has forced them. For example, unlike Uber and Lyft drivers, your cannabis delivery drivers are full-time workers who receive a guaranteed minimum wage and overtime, and who receive family and sick leave.
This is a legal requirement ingrained into the adult marijuana laws California passed 2018.
Now there is another new requirement that the state has placed on cannabis companies. In October’s annual series of new state laws, Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a measure requiring any cannabis company with 20 or more employees to enter into a “labour peace agreement,” negotiated by a union or labor negotiator of their choice, to negotiate wages, annual raises, and health benefits.
This state law has been on the books since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2018, but there has never been an enforcement mechanism. A pharmacy could just say ‘We’re working on it’ indefinitely because there was no deadline for compliance.
But a new California law called AB 1291 allows state authorities to make “a… license” from a cannabis company with a workforce of 20 or more if that company does not have a labor peace agreement. If a pot company has fewer than 20 employees, they still have to send a notarized letter to the state pledging to allow their employees to enter into an employment contract within 60 years. days after making their twentieth rent.
Ominously, the law also says authorities will enforce the rule “by expanding the scope of the crime” perjury.”
Unions have tried vigorously to organize in the cannabis industry since the early days of medical marijuana cards. Before the strict new rules of the recreational era came into effect, workers often earned less than minimum wage, were paid in weed instead of cash, or faced horrific working conditions in remote, rural operations. The first unionized pharmacy in the nation was Oakland’s Magnolia Wellness, which joined in 2010.
“It was great to be a member of a union,” said Magnolia Wellness CEO Debby Goldsberry SF Weekly. “We are the oldest union members” [cannabis] company in the country, with long-term satisfied employees, extensive health benefits and a supportive environment where staffing is always a top priority.
“In my opinion, a union is the most definitive way to show your team that they matter and to show the community that your company cares about more than just profit.”
Organized labor has taken a big win with this new state law, but not all San Francisco dispensaries are in the mood to give them high fives. The city’s pharmacies may have good reason to be skeptical of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union that represents cannabis industry.
The most obvious sticking point is an absolutely insane 2015 bribery and union fraud scandal. The UFCW’s Leading Cannabis Workers in the Bay Area organizer Dan Rush took $600,000 in “loans” from a union pharmacy, ruining the amount in Indian casinos and paying Hell’s Angels phone bills, according to an FBI declaration under oath.
When he couldn’t pay it back, his indictment says he “formulated an arrangement to obtain debt forgiveness in exchange for favorable treatment from the union.” Rush pleaded guilty to felony charges of receiving illegal payments, wire transfer fraud and money money laundering, and was sentenced to 37 months in jail.
Part of the mistrust has to do with union efforts that weren’t illegal per se, but crossed several long-memory operators.
in 2015, SF Weekly reported that union officials lobbied San Francisco Planning Commission rejects Excelsior District location for pharmacy chain SPARC. The committee indeed rejected the offer, but expressed greater concerns about the “clustering” of the pharmacy in the Excelsior.
Four years earlier, a leading Bay Area union attorney filed an appeal to block the opening of a pharmacy called Tree Med in the same neighborhood. That appeal failed, the shop opened, becoming Cookies SF and now called Connected Cannabis Co.
Some of the UFCW’s statewide activities have also misled many marijuana companies. The union organized to oppose the state cannabis supply law that went into effect last year January, despite their opposition efforts. The UFCW has been fighting hard for the past few months against cannabis lounge licenses in West Hollywood.
The UFCW is a labor organization with 1.3 million members in the US and Canada, best known for representing grocery store workers at chains like Safeway. They threw their support behind California’s 2016 Propoosition 64 that legalized recreational marijuana, which passed the measure.
UFCWs Hayward-based UFCW5 chapter established the Bay Area’s “flagship” dispensary at Oakland’s Magnolia Wellness, and successfully completed that chapter united Oakland’s world-renowned cannabis college Oaksterdam in 2010.
In August, the union announced that “four new pharmacies have joined UFCW Local 5 in the past month.” These include pharmacies in Oakland, San Jose, and Santa Cruz.
But none of these dispensaries are located in San Francisco. The cannabis union representation in the city is minimal or non-existent.
The San Francisco chapter is UFCW Local 648, whose cannabis federation page says that “UFCW Local 648 is fully committed to organizing and representing workers working in the cannabis industry within its jurisdiction.” But the site doesn’t list any active affiliates, and UFCW 648’s cannabis division is also extremely hard to reach.
The UFCW 648 cannabis industry contact listed online is no longer with the union. A substitute mentioned in automated bounceback emails will not appear in the office voicemail directories.
So SF Weekly personally stopped by UFCW 648 HQ at 16th and Mission Street. We received stunned reactions from front desk personnel who seemed unaware of cannabis efforts from their offices. We have left our contact details and a description of our questions, communication that has not been returned.
We also didn’t have much luck finding unionized dispensaries in San Francisco.
We contacted six of the largest pharmacies with staff numbers in city to ask for their plans for permitting labor contracts for employees. Three pharmacies did not respond and three others declined, with statements as if they were “not interested in commenting on this” story.”
Two smaller dispensaries in San Francisco were once union stores, but are no longer. Post Street’s Grass Roots Dispensary became the first San Francisco pharmacy to join a union in 2011, and Crocker-Amazon’s Mission Organic opened as a union store the following year. Both stores confirm that their employees are no longer with the union, and declined to comment further.
California’s unions have given us great inspiration lately, from Marriott’s successful strike action last year to Kaiser Permanente to award better health workers benefits, for Anchor Steam Brewery’s union efforts. And now the protection of the cannabis labor that the unions fought for is enshrined in law with AB 1291.
But union membership has been plummeting for decades and has reached an all-time high lows. This new law could help cannabis industry workers, or could simply be a way for unions to keep their membership numbers from going up in smoke.