House Dems back marijuana industry workers in unionizing push
FILE PHOTO: Employees prepare recreational marijuana orders for customers at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California, U.S., January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Workers in the marijuana industry joined union representatives and Democratic lawmakers Tuesday for a round table discussion about a growing push to organize workplaces in the sector and about federal legislation to protect workers' rights in all industries.

Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.). met with employees from marijuana businesses in New Jersey, where legal sales for recreational use began last week.

Recreational use of marijuana has now been legalized in at least 18 states, with the pace of decriminalization picking up in recent years.

At the same time, workers at Amazon, Starbucks, John Deere, and other workplaces have garnered national attention for forming labor unions and staging strikes to demand fair pay, stronger safety protections, and a say in decision-making.

"I think that one of the things we look at is the cannabis industry really is prime for organizing right now—just like you're seeing with Starbucks, just like you're seeing with Amazon," Pocan told Marijuana Moment ahead of the round table.

Hourly workers in cultivation and retail in the industry earn $15 per hour on average, according to a 2021 survey.

"We're here to basically talk from the perspectives of those workers, budtenders... who are trying to make a career out of it, trying to earn a livable wage, get earned time off that coincides with the amount of time that they spend at the facility, " said one worker named Emilio who attended the round table discussion.

"The cannabis industry really is prime for organizing right now—just like you're seeing with Starbucks, just like you're seeing with Amazon."

Cannabis workers in St. Louis and Manistee, Michigan have voted this month to join the United Food & Commercial Workers, becoming the first dispensary employees in each state to unionize.

At Root 66 in St. Louis, the eight budtenders who voted to unionize had concerns about a lack of consistent company policies and policy changes, no paid time off for sick leave or vacation, and low wages.

"Cannabis workers across the country are voting to join a union because they know it's the best way to secure good wages and benefits on the job," said UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook after the vote in St. Louis on April 4. "Workers need economic security and fair treatment in the workplace, and cannabis workers are no different."

Pocan and Norcross, both union members themselves, have advocated for passage of the PRO Act, which the U.S. House passed in 2020 but which has been held up in the Senate due to right-wing opposition and the legislative filibuster.

The legislation "will help all sectors and make it easier for people who want to have an election actually be able to get an election and be able to form a union,” Pocan told Marijuana Moment.

"I think you have potential to see that with the cannabis industry, and that's a good thing," he said. "When people are organized, depending on the position, it's like $3,000 to $8,000 more they can make simply by being a member of a unionized business in cannabis."