Organize! The Rising Role of Unions in Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Industry
Recently the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union, Colorado’s largest labor organization, announced it had unionized its first medical marijuana shop in Denver - with more than a dozen shops predicted to follow suit in the upcoming weeks.
According to Colorado’s UFCW President Kim Cordova “the Union is committed to representing the hard working and compassionate workers in the Medical Cannabis retail centers and promoting guidelines to safeguard the interests of our members and the communities our members work in.”
What does it mean for Colorado’s medical marijuana industry to have union shops?
Colorado’s newest industry is in a tough position. It faces near-constant attacks from various branches of the federal government including the IRS, Treasury and, most recently, the Department of Justice. Just last month, the United State attorney in Colorado, John Walsh, launched an attack on state-legal medical marijuana providers by sending 23 letters to centers, informing them that that were in areas deemed problematic by the federal government and would have to shut down in 45 days or face property seizure and criminal prosecution.
In the face of these mounting problems, the medical marijuana industry needs allies. And they have found a powerful one in the Union.
At a basic level, labor unions allow workers to organize and engage in “collective bargaining” to promote better wages, benefits, and working conditions. There is no denying the vast role that unions have played in positively shaping the American workforce with these organizations leading the charge to end child labor, secure a minimum wage and sick leave, and establish workplace safety measures as far back as the 1800’s.
But perhaps the most important role that unions play is their heavy influence over politics. Beyond pushing for the interests of workers, unions have long been engaged in successful political campaigns, using lobbying and traditional campaign tactics to ensure the longevity of the industries they represent. Through sophisticated political maneuvering, labor unions have played a crucial role throughout history in helping to establish and legitimize businesses-- a lesson that medical marijuana shops may want to heed. With the public backing of a state and national powerhouse like the UFCW, these fledgling businesses may be viewed in a new light by legislators, many of whom owe their elections in large part to the political backing of unions.
At the dawn of this new industry in Colorado, having mainstream partners such as labor unions may be crucial to the medical marijuana industry’s legitimacy and, quite possibly, its longevity.
Fertile Ground is a monthly column highlighting the hottest state and national issues surrounding marijuana reform. This column is brought to you by Brian Vicente, the Executive Director of the advocacy group Sensible Colorado, and a partner at Vicente Sederberg LLC, a full service medical marijuana law firm.