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Is the cannabis industry ready to unionize?

The cannabis industry labor force is increasing in size at a rapid rate. As of June 2018, it was estimated that the industry already supported as many as 160,000 full-time jobs.

Arcview Group Research estimates that the number could climb to as high as 414,000 jobs by 2021.

With so many workers in the cannabis industry, it is important that they fight for their own interests. That is where labor unions come in.

What are the benefits of labor union membership for cannabis industry workers?

Jobs in the cannabis industry come in many forms, from entry-level harvest trimmers at farms, to budtenders, to master grower positions in large cannabis companies.

One thing that binds all of those types of workers is the need for a collective voice, which is how unions can help cannabis industry workers by:

  • Helping them negotiate for better pay
  • Create collective bargaining power
  • Advocate for better working conditions
  • Increase training opportunities
  • Increase job security
  • Provide ancillary services
  • Lobby lawmakers on behalf of workers

When one worker tries to advocate for the things listed above, they may get ignored. But when they band together with many other workers, their negotiating leverage increases dramatically.

Why are labor unions courting cannabis industry workers?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics union membership has been steadily declining since 1983.

The decline can be attributed to a number of reasons, but regardless of what those reasons are, the downward trend has left unions scrambling and looking for ways to boost membership.

Members pay money (dues) to unions in order to retain their membership, and in turn, unions use those dues to carry out their objectives.

One way to boost numbers is to look for membership candidates in already-existing industries, and/or coming up with ways to convince members that left to come back.

But the easiest way to gain new members is to find a brand new industry that has been untapped from a union membership standpoint.

In that context, the emergence of the cannabis industry is undoubtedly one of the biggest blessings and opportunities for labor unions in many decades, if not of all time.

Which labor unions should cannabis industry workers be familiar with?

Labor unions vary in size, with some being smaller and serving a niche labor force, and others being enormous.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has a membership of over 1.3 million workers.

Since 2010 the union has been pursuing its ‘Cannabis Workers Rising campaign‘ which has served to try to enroll cannabis industry workers into the union. ‘Tens of thousands’ have signed up.

UFCW union has been at the forefront of the union membership push in the cannabis industry, but the Teamsters and United Farm Workers unions have also been trying to organize workers too.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has made it clear that it will make a huge push going forward to try to organize cannabis industry workers in New York State.

At least one cannabis company is embracing the push for union membership in New York. Vireo Health of New York recently started a medical cannabis discount program for union members.

Union membership is especially important for the cannabis industry

Unlike other industries that have a strong union presence, the cannabis industry is still largely illegal at the federal level due to cannabis’s federal status as a prohibited controlled substance.

Union membership plays a vital role in many industries, but in an industry like cannabis where workers constantly live in fear of potential federal prosecution, a united voice is very important.

Cannabis industry members that unite their voices via unions help boost reform efforts at the federal level.

Union lobbying, combined with trade associations, reform groups, and other cannabis advocacy efforts, help increase the momentum for reform at the federal level.

Cannabis workers joining unions is likely not enough on its own to achieve federal cannabis reform, but it is a huge piece to the greater reform effort puzzle.

Also, cannabis workers joining unions helps further push the cannabis industry into the mainstream, and in the process, helps reduce stigma for cannabis industry workers and consumers everywhere.

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