As the American cannabis industry continues to expand at the rapid succession that it is, the number of jobs and other employment opportunities created from these expansions are simultaneously growing quickly. From just hundreds of jobs in the pre-2012 days of medical-only legalization to an astonishing 430,000 jobs approximately created from this young industry that’s only legal in half the country, the cannabis industry is becoming just as normalized as other large and more established industries. Cannabis businesses vary in terms of benefits offered, but most W2 cannabis employees are offered health insurance, PTO and some cannabis companies even offer 401k services to their employees. Far from an offshoot of a boutique industry far off in the shadows, the American cannabis industry is becoming as mainstream as the automobile industry regardless of the industry’s federally illegal status.
Another monumental way that the American cannabis industry is becoming further legalized is through the many unionization efforts, some of which have become successful, happening across the Legal States. From a major battle involving GTI employees in Illinois that have teamed up with the Teamsters 777 union following the likely preventable death of a GTI employee in Rock Island to unionization efforts happening in both Northern and Southern Nevada alike, cannabis employees are partnering with chapters of some of the largest and most impactful labor unions in America or are at least attempting to do so.
It’s especially interesting to watch successful unionization efforts occur not only in an industry that still isn’t recreationally legal within their state but also within a state as socially conservative as Utah. Although Utah shares borders with four different states that all have fully recreational cannabis legalization, one of which being Colorado, recreational cannabis possession and sales within The Beehive State is still considered illegal. Utah does have medical cannabis access after Question 2 aka The Medical Cannabis Act passed by about 60,000 votes in 2018.
Opening their doors in the rather eventful month of March of 2020, Dragonfly Wellness Cannabis Dispensary received the distinct honor of being the very first licensed medical dispensary to open in Utah. And after three and a half years in operations, 30 of the 36 employees at Dragonfly voted in early October to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 99.
In fact, the UFCW Local 99 has been organizing a large-scale and full-fledged Cannabis Workers Union. Considering that the representation of the UFCW Local 99 employees spreads across both Arizona and New Mexico as well, the labor union has reached and has a further opportunity to reach several thousands more cannabis employees.
“For more than a decade, our union has been proud to help lead the development and stabilization of the emerging cannabis industry through our innovative Cannabis Workers Rising campaign.” the UFCW Local 99 explains on their website. “We represent tens of thousands of cannabis workers across the US in dispensaries, labs, delivery, kitchens, manufacturing, processing, grow facilities and more helping workers secure better wages, protection from unfair discipline, and great benefits with a union contract.
The unionization efforts at the Salt Lake City-based dispensary have been ongoing since July and the employees say that UCFW certainly expedited the process. Because Utah is a “right to work” state, that means employers cannot deny a prospective employee an employment opportunity due to their affiliation with a labor union. Dragonfly employees said that the store’s management attempted to hire Crossroads Group, a company supposedly notorious by the UCFW for union-busting measures that was previously investigated by the National Labor Relations Board for making coercive statements, yet the efforts from the employees were ultimately successful by a vote of 19-4.
“We know that we bring value to the company,” said Barry Follmer, a wellness associate and union organizer. “We feel our compensation, benefits and our PTO should reflect that. We bring a lot of knowledge, experience, care and kindness to this profession.”
Especially with how physically demanding working in cannabis cultivation and post-harvest is, the various safety concerns that arise from the many duties of these warehouse and blue collar jobs on top of critically low pay and spotty benefits at best, the discussion surrounding unionization in the American cannabis industry is definitely becoming a more prevalent one throughout this still growing yet quickly flourishing industry.
“Workers are seeing profits being made, but not feeling it in their paychecks,” UCFW spokesperson Drake Ridge said. “Part of this is to ensure the workers that are making the industry thrive, that are building direct relationships with patients and giving them the medicine they need to get through the day, are seeing their fair share of the profits.”
As a chapter of a union that has over 1.3 million members, this partnership with Dragonfly is definitely monumental in several ways and may likely lead to further expansion of unionization in the American cannabis industry.
“In every corner of the industry, cannabis workers are standing up to demand better for themselves, their co-workers, and their families,” said UFCW Local 99 President Jim McLaughlin. “Today’s historic union election at Dragonfly Wellness is a testament to the strength of the Cannabis Workers Rising movement and marks an important milestone for industry workers across Utah. Now, Dragonfly Wellness employees will finally have a strong voice at work to advocate for a better quality of life and raise the standard of living for cannabis workers statewide.”