Dealin': Organized Labor Wants Its Piece of the Cannabis Industry

Proud union employee Debby Goldsberry lost a $260

Cannabis was good to Debby Goldsberry. The time she spent in the late 1980s and early '90s following the Grateful Dead on tour, passing out photocopied fliers that agitated for marijuana legalization, led to a high-paying career. After California legalized medical cannabis in 1996, Goldsberry cofounded one of the state's first major marijuana businesses, Berkeley Patients Group.

One of the most successful dispensaries in Northern California, BPG grossed more than $15 million in sales in 2009. That year, Goldsberry earned $263,299 — less than her fellow cofounders and co-executives (both men), but still good money, considering her job's illegal origins 20 years earlier on Shakedown Street.

Sometimes the light's all shining on me.

Things fell apart in 2010. With recreational marijuana legalization on the state ballot, Goldsberry and her partners disagreed about BPG's future. That summer, she was removed from the company's board of directors after a no-confidence vote.

One day in the fall, she showed up to work and found someone else occupying her desk. She took time off after a doctor advised her that work-related stress was getting to be too much. When she returned on Dec. 31 of that year, her partners handed her piece of paper: an at-will termination form.

Other times I can barely see.

Once the shock cleared, Goldsberry learned something about California employment law. “I was an at-will employee, even though I was a founder,” she says. That meant she could be fired at any time without explanation, and without severance pay.

Goldsberry had immense respect within the legalization movement — High Times later declared her marijuana “activist of the year” and flew her to Amsterdam — but respect doesn't pay the mortgage or the grocery bill.

Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime.

Bereft, Goldsberry turned to a new friend who'd appeared on the marijuana scene earlier that year: a union organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers, which had just become the first labor union to organize workers in the American medical cannabis business. UFCW found her an employment attorney, who sued for wrongful termination (the suit was settled out of court in 2012 for an undisclosed sum). The union also found her a new job.

After working on a union effort in San Jose, Goldsberry landed a dispensary gig — with a union contract — at Magnolia Wellness, near the Port of Oakland. Much smaller than BPG, Magnolia is nonetheless described by UFCW's Local 5 as its “flagship” shop. (Its location — along one of the main routes for container traffic in and out of the port, where a labor dispute earlier this year ground container traffic to a halt, slowed the economy, and led to layoffs across the West — is a meaningful coincidence.)

Like most activists-turned-entrepreneurs who founded the state's first wave of medical marijuana enterprises, Goldsberry had come from a cash-only, hustle-and-share economy. For a Deadhead hippie, a rigorously enforced union workplace existed in a different world.

“I never worked in a place with organized labor,” says Goldsberry, who is now a staunch advocate for unions. “I found out the hard way: had I been a contract employee, none of this would have ever happened.”


Labor helped Goldsberry. Labor is also trying to help the American cannabis industry. The UFCW, best known for representing grocery store workers at chains such as Safeway, began signing up California budtenders, trimmers, joint-rollers, and growers — jobs it prefers to call “technicians” and “processors” — in 2010. Unions offered cannabis badly needed legitimacy in the eyes of politicians and the public at a time when marijuana's economic potential was still dismissed.

Like Goldsberry, most dispensary workers enjoyed pay and benefits far above and beyond what they would see at a grocery store. So, in a departure from traditional bottom-up organizing, UFCW advocated for would-be business owners. Organized labor's imprimatur helped convince leery city councils and leaders of neighborhood associations that having a dispensary in town wasn't such a bad idea. “You can trust us,” was the message. “We're with the union.”

Today, about 1,000 workers in the California cannabis industry are card-carrying members of UFCW, the union estimates. Those workers include joint-rollers, chocolate makers, and dispensaries in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento. Of UFCW's 1.2 million members nationwide — a considerable portion of the 14.6 million union workers in America — 3,000 are counted in its fledgling “medical cannabis and hemp division.”

But with recreational marijuana legal in four states and a majority of Americans in support of outright legalization, there is tremendous opportunity to expand. UFCW hopes to represent workers in every one of the 23 states so far where some form of medical marijuana is legal. The union also is flexing its political muscle, using the age-old connections between Democratic politicians and the labor movement to lobby for legal marijuana. In the push to legalize cannabis outright in Ohio, UFCW is a key player.

Labor is also trying to help itself. At a time when private-sector union membership continues to decline in America, the burgeoning, labor-intensive cannabis industry represents the best opportunity in a generation for UFCW — which has lost 100,000 members since 2000 — to build back its membership. And the union is using those political connections to ensure it has a piece of the action.

When dispensaries in New York open their doors later this year, cannabis patients won't have to look out for the union label — every worker at every shop will be union, thanks to a rule written into state law at the union's bequest. In California, union lobbyists are pushing the state Legislature to include similar language in a bill winding its way through Sacramento that would, for the first time, regulate the state's enormous marijuana marketplace.

Meanwhile, cannabis has become uncomfortable with labor's presence. More and more industry leaders see the union as an opportunistic outsider with one chief concern: the union. There are rumors that unless UFCW is included in the plans to legalize next year, it will work to block legalization entirely. The relationship is so uncomfortable that when a union lobbyist working on statewide policy paid a visit to a San Francisco dispensary, the shop's executive director — who also happens to be a sitting Democratic politician — took him aside to say, “Let me tell you why we don't need a union.”

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After drawing attention from investors on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley — and having morphed from a “legalization movement” to a “cannabis industry” — many medical marijuana entrepreneurs no longer think they need a labor union to make them legitimate. “I support the right of workers to organize, but I don't like the kind of backroom sweetheart deals I've seen cooked up between some of the unions and the employers in the cannabis industry,” says Stephen DeAngelo, founder and CEO of Harborside Health Center in Oakland.

At Harborside, workers listened to a union pitch — and voted against joining, DeAngelo tells SF Weekly. “I like even less the idea that a union would try to accomplish legislatively something they couldn't get workers to directly approve,” he adds. “My CIO-labor-organizer grandfather would be rolling over in his grave at the sight of it.”

In a time of need, the cannabis industry welcomed the union in. Now, the union is here to stay, whether the industry likes it or not.


Cannabis has been good to California. In rural Mendocino County, in the heart of the state's marijuana-producing Emerald Triangle, per-capita retail spending is 2 percent higher than in any county in the North Bay, according to federal Bureau of Economic Analysis figures. More cash per person is swirling around on old logging roads than on the highways in chic, wine-producing travel destinations like Napa and Sonoma.

That is thanks to marijuana. It's also thanks to federal law enforcement that, while unable to stop a massive, flagrant and ongoing violation of the Controlled Substances Act, has succeeded in preventing the violators from banking. Therefore, what is earned is often immediately spent, or reinvested in the local economy.

As with any other economy operating partly in the shadows, marijuana's true contribution to the state's bottom line is hard to accurately gauge. What estimates are out there are astounding. A 2010 state analysis pegged the worth of California's cannabis harvest at $14.1 billion, by far the state's biggest cash crop. Wine, at $2.9 billion worth of grapes, is supposed to have $61.5 billion worth of “economic impact,” according to the Wine Institute, a more nebulous figure that chambers of commerce like to tout when advocating for pet projects. By extension, the economic impact of the state's cannabis industry is immense.

An economy of that magnitude needs workers. And cannabis is a labor-intensive commodity, with humans required at every stage to plant, grow, harvest, process, transport, and sell the product.

Estimating how many people work in marijuana in California is even more challenging than guessing at the crop's value. Those cash-rich farmers in Mendocino County don't pay payroll taxes when hiring trim crews to process the year's crop. Nor do many dispensaries, delivery services, bakers, or hash oil producers in urban areas, all of which operate without state licenses.

As a result, “we don't have a good tracking mechanism,” says Rob Eyler, an economics professor at Sonoma State University. “But, reaching around in the dark … it could be as high as 100,000 people” — or exactly the number of workers who have left UFCW since George W. Bush's election. This decent-sized city's worth of workers is operating largely off the books. Put another way: The working conditions under which the state's chief cash crop is produced are almost entirely unregulated. “I don't think there's any doubt,” Eyler says, “that marijuana is likely the biggest labor black market in California.”

In other industries, rampant abuse of workers thrives under such conditions. In California's “legitimate” agriculture industry, a 2013 Center for Investigative Reporting probe found widespread rape and other abuses of female workers, most of whom are Spanish-speaking immigrants. That exposé led Gov. Jerry Brown to sign legislation promising new protections.

It appears the marijuana industry does not yet have those problems. Despite a well-publicized case of a Humboldt grower shooting and killing an undocumented worker the grower had brought to his ranch in 2010, cannabis appears to be mostly staying true to its feel-good hippie roots. And the numerous “trimmigrants” who descend on Mendocino, Humboldt, and other rural California counties are happy to take the several hundred dollars a day they can earn processing farmers' crops under the table before moving on to the next job.

What's more, despite Goldsberry's executive troubles at BPG, workers lower on the food chain, at dispensary counters, make about $15 to $18 an hour to start, according to an SF Weekly survey of selected local shops. Those jobs also include health and retirement benefits. As a result, competition for the jobs is akin to admission to Harvard; Goldsberry remembers fielding hundreds of applications for a single counter spot.

That is one reason why labor's entry into cannabis was not brought on by underpaid workers putting in long hours or growers forgetting where in the backyard they'd buried the PVC pipe stuffed with $100 bills. This was about an emerging economy that lacked respect from society. That's why labor entered at the top, by way of a chain-smoking union organizer who rides a custom Harley-Davidson painted with the Superman logo, and knew a golden opportunity when he saw it.


To call Dan Rush a union man is a vast understatement. The Oakland native's father and grandfather were Teamsters, his grandmother a union retail clerk. A career in the Teamsters was Rush's birthright until the 19-year-old with a pro wrestler's physique participated in the 1978 strike of Safeway truck drivers.

The demonstrations were already vicious before a tractor-trailer truck driven by management struck and killed a 24-year old union driver while crossing a picket line. An off-duty, out-of-town cop was riding shotgun for security. It got worse when Rush fired a .40-caliber slug from a wrist rocket at a car that carried more out-of-town cops. The slug put out one cop's eye. Rush pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and spent three years behind bars. On his release, a condition of his probation was that he could not be a Teamster.

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Instead, Rush took a job organizing for the meat-cutters union, a career path that led to UFCW. He had enough success to rise to a position called “statewide special operations director,” in charge of identifying potential new members and signing them up.

Rush was spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2009 poring over ballot initiatives for the next year, seeing where UFCW could help out, when something caught his eye: A marijuana legalization initiative had qualified for the ballot. The campaign running it was in downtown Oakland, a few doors down from where Rush's grandmother would take him shopping as a child, and just a short Harley ride up Telegraph Avenue from the family's home near the MacArthur BART station.

Rush knew nothing about cannabis at the time. He did know that Oakland's long-moribund downtown was enjoying a revival thanks to the collection of dispensaries and marijuana businesses sprouting up on Broadway and Telegraph. And anyone or anything that was good for Oakland was good for Dan Rush. So he hopped on his Harley and rumbled up to the legalization campaign's headquarters in a building on Broadway near where his grandmother used to work. It was a Sunday morning and the election was almost a year away. He was surprised to see a buzzing office full of volunteers and piles of empty pizza boxes.

This was a chance. The legalizers had a cause and they had people. What they didn't have was an organization or political connections, two things that could help them win badly needed legitimacy, not to mention the election the next fall. UFCW had both. The legalization campaign, run by the leaders of downtown cannabis college Oaksterdam University, was thrilled to have the union.

Rush retells this story while sitting in a cramped office at the back of his house on a recent sultry June afternoon, feeds from multiple security cameras on a monitor in front him. He's surrounded by Superman kitsch, honorary proclamations from politicians, and memorabilia — including thank-you certificates — from a certain notorious motorcycle club with strong Oakland roots. “That chair you're sitting in — that's Sonny Barger's chair,” he tells me, referring to one of the more notorious founding members of the Hell's Angels' Oakland chapter.

For Rush, signing up Oaksterdam's workers was a social justice issue. Even though they were paid well and treated well, “cannabis workers were absolutely marginalized,” he says, “but not by their employers.”

At Oaksterdam, Rush met a lesbian couple. They both worked in marijuana, and they were planning to get married. But they were afraid to go home and confront their families at Christmas — because they worked in weed, not because they were gay. Rush met another individual, an overweight man who wore unflattering skin-tight lycra bicycle wear to and from work. When asked why, the man explained: Proving that he literally had nothing to hide was the only way he could commute to and from work without being stopped and searched by police.

“And this was in fucking Oakland,” Rush says, his voice rising. “If that's not a disparaged workforce, I don't know what is. They weren't oppressed at work. They were being oppressed by an ignorant society.”

It was still a tough sell to union honchos. UFCW gives its locals a fair measure of autonomy, but this — a bunch of stoners breaking federal law — was something else entirely. Preferring to beg for forgiveness than ask permission, Rush told the legalizers that the union was in. Later, when pitching the idea to his union superiors, Rush keyed in on two points: One, cannabis is a retail product “for human consumption and wear,” and UFCW represents workers in agriculture, textiles, and other similar industries; two, it was an expanding industry with great growth potential — and other unions were nowhere to be found. UFCW had the field to itself, if it wanted it.

On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend 2010, the union issued a press release announcing it had organized workers at Oaksterdam University and its affiliated dispensaries and businesses. “Four hundred” media outlets around the country ran the story, Rush says. With UFCW's help, the legalization measure, now called Prop. 19, received backing from the state NAACP as well as drug reform and marijuana advocates.

Most mainstream Democrats, however, stayed away. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein served as the “No” campaign's chairwoman. Financial support, other than the life savings of Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee, was in short supply. The final straw was an October surprise courtesy of the federal Justice Department, which said it would prosecute city officials who allowed legal weed operations to open. The initiative won more votes than Meg Whitman did in her bid to defeat Jerry Brown for governor, but still lost, barely, with 47.5 percent of Californians voting in favor.

UFCW was nevertheless committed. The union soon created a “national medical cannabis and hemp division,” of which Rush was made director. He sold dispensary operators on UFCW's political clout, leverage that could be used to win them local approval to open. The union also worked city halls. When Oakland chose to expand the number of permitted dispensaries allowed in town from four to eight, UFCW ensured that when the “merit-based” permit applications were considered, union membership counted. (Of the four that were granted permits, only Magnolia Wellness was — and still is — organized.) A similar reward for union membership is in place in Berkeley, which will select one of eight applicants for an additional dispensary permit later this year.

The union also helped cannabis become more sophisticated. Most everybody working in California cannabis policy today has had at least a few meetings with UFCW. Or, as one Sacramento-level lobbyist told me recently, “Dan Rush fucking made me.”

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But there were limits to UFCW's clout. When the federal Justice Department started threatening dispensary operators and their landlords with prison time in fall 2011, the union had no answers. Hundreds of dispensaries across the state closed, and union jobs vanished along with them. In 2012, federal authorities raided Oaksterdam University's campus. Rush and some other union workers appeared at rallies denouncing the feds, but shied away from endorsing marijuana agitators' main message: that President Barack Obama was breaking a campaign promise to leave them alone. The union was playing smart politics, and while some members privately shared the cannabis industry's outrage, marijuana advocates felt jilted nonetheless.

Politics would annoy the cannabis industry yet again when UFCW sided with Los Angeles' political establishment to support a local ballot initiative there, Prop. D, that put a cap on how many dispensaries could operate in L.A. Under Prop. D, several hundred cannabis clubs would have to close. Union honchos preached the wisdom of playing ball and cutting deals, but some marijuana hardliners only saw more dispensaries shutting down. At the same time, UFCW worked to bring the survivors into its fold, organizing 30 of the remaining Los Angeles clubs.

Meanwhile, attention shifted away from California. With help from veterans of Prop. 19 as well as support from UFCW, legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington passed in fall 2012. Soon, big-name Democrats including California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had endorsed a no vote on Prop. 19, came out in support of cannabis legalization.

By that time, Rush was out of California, working on turning other states green. Some industry insiders and lobbyists say he overreached and angered superiors by going around them to directly lobby state politicians such as former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. Union officials say the UFCW intentionally shifted resources to other states. “California was such a mess,” says Jeff Ferro, a top aide to the union's head of organizing, “that the work organizing was much more precarious [here] than in other states.”

Then and now, California lacked strong statewide marijuana-industry regulations, which were all but demanded by federal Justice Department officials in a 2013 missive known as the Cole Memo. That made California a risky investment, for both capital and the union. So, rather than slog along in a ruleless California, UFCW would work in other states, such as New York, where it could play a role in writing the rules. The union's earlier successes did not go unnoticed. As The New Republic observed in 2013, “The UFCW has been an unseen force in nearly every big push to pass marijuana-friendly laws and ordinances in Western states.”

But the union wasn't winning people over with the same ease it had in Oakland in 2010. When merchants in Denver opened their doors on New Year's Day 2014 to mark the first legal recreational marijuana sales in American history, not a single union worker could be found. Organizers blame Colorado's independent streak and less labor-friendly laws for being left out of the country's biggest recreational cannabis economy. By contrast, in the state of Washington, where officials reported average daily sales of $1.4 million per day and tax revenues twice what was expected, UFCW signed up its first shop last month.

In San Francisco, the union proved it could be an enemy as well as an ally. When a dispensary tried to open next to Mission Organics in 2011, the same union attorney at SF's lone union shop — the one who filed Debby Goldsberry's lawsuit — filed an appeal in opposition. It failed and the new shop, now affiliated with Sunset District-bred rapper Berner's Cookies brand, opened up. Still, the cannabis industry took notice and was disturbed.

Last fall, union honchos also pushed the city's Planning Commission to deny a permit for a second dispensary location for SPARC, one of the city's leading cannabis shops, which like other clubs is finding itself unable to meet the enormous demand for its products. (At the time, SPARC's executive director, Robert Jacob, was the mayor of Sebastopol in Sonoma County, and had apparently failed to return a political favor.) The SPARC permit was denied, no small setback in a city where medical cannabis dispensary permits are so valuable that existing permit-holders are reportedly entertaining — and rejecting — six-figure offers for their permits. As it happens, the only dispensary that succeeded in securing a medical cannabis dispensary permit despite organized neighborhood opposition was the union-backed Mission Organics. Still, the episode led some to loudly question UFCW's purpose.

“They haven't really hit their stride in providing benefits to their members,” says Brendan Hallinan, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in cannabis businesses, including one dispensary that agreed to sign up with the union, only to have organizers disappear until after their permit was won. “They were, I hate to say it, disorganized,” Hallinan says. “I have yet to hear anybody say that they received much benefit from being in the union.”


UFCW is far from all-in on marijuana. The union just got around to endorsing Oregon's legalization initiative, Measure 91, a mere few days before voters approved it last fall. A month later, in his farewell message to members, outgoing UFCW Local 5 President Ron Lind ­­— whose shop was the first to organize cannabis workers ­­­— only mentioned cannabis in passing. UFCW's most recent victory in California came last year, when workers at the Oakland location of Bhang Chocolates, one of the nation's leading edibles companies, signed their union cards. But since then, UFCW has stepped back from worker-oriented organizing and zeroed in on changing policy in Sacramento. There, the union is working — just as it is in other states — to ensure it will have a piece of the cannabis industry, especially if there's a legalization measure on the ballot next year.

It is Jim Araby's job to provide that assurance. A goateed former grocery store worker from Boston, Araby is the executive director of UFCW's Western States Council, an umbrella group responsible for pushing pro-union policies in four states including California. In addition to backing labor's push for a $15 minimum wage and for better pay at the bargain grocery chain El Super, Araby and the UFCW are concerned with cannabis.

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The union has paid for polls and focus groups to test voters' attitudes on legalization for next year (those polls, conveniently, found support for a “professionalized workforce” as well as recreational cannabis for adults, Araby told the Sacramento Bee). Araby also sits on the American Civil Liberties Union task force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, that is supposed to release recommendations for legalization ballot language this summer.

And Araby is involved in the push to pass a bill that would, for the first time, regulate California's cannabis industry at the state level. He wants to make sure that any regulations passed are friendly to labor. “For us,” Araby says at his one-man office in an Art Deco building in downtown Oakland, “two things need to be in every bill.” Those things are ensuring that dispensary owners allow union organizers into their shops and don't speak ill of labor, and instituting a workplace training program similar to the ones in New York and Minnesota.

The cannabis bill currently under consideration in the state Legislature would create a new Office of Medical Cannabis Regulation under the purview of Gov. Jerry Brown. It would require commercial cannabis enterprises at every step of the supply chain to acquire licenses. It also would create minimum training standards for workers at licensed dispensaries and grow sites.

Such an “apprenticeship program” is a rare thing in the private sector outside of laborers or building trades, but it's a notion that's gaining traction. Both Brown and President Obama have called for more apprenticeship programs. “Everyone is pushing it, because it works,” says Carol Zabin, a labor economist at UC Berkeley's Labor Research Center. “Our economy produces a lot of low-wage jobs, and this kind of job training” — in which the industry makes a direct investment in the quality of its workers — “protects the industry from going the really low-wage route.”

Just who would administer a cannabis apprenticeship program, however, isn't clear. This will be a point of contention for the rest of the summer. The union, predictably, wants it to be the union. The industry, just as predictably, believes it has a good handle on things. “We all agree there needs to be standards for workers,” says Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, a Sacramento-based trade group with whom UFCW shares a lobbyist, San Francisco-based Platinum Advisors. “You're dealing with a psychoactive substance — you should have some knowledge of what you're selling to people.

“But there should be a choice” of who provides the training, Bradley adds. “We're opposed to mandatory provisions here.”

It's unclear how hard UFCW will push for its agenda. The situation is precarious: This is the fourth year in a row that the Legislature has considered a regulatory bill for the marijuana industry, and at no time has the Legislature been closer to passing one. The bill sailed out of the Assembly with Republican support, but it needs to clear a few hurdles in the Senate before it reaches Brown's desk. To have the union pull out and oppose the bill would be stunning, but not unthinkable.

Meanwhile, UFCW is unapologetic about using the Legislature to achieve its ends. “Workers need to have a voice in what goes on in their workplace,” Araby says. “If that has to be guaranteed through legislation, so be it.”


Marijuana's speedy shift from a fringe cause celebre to the billion-dollar Green Rush it is today could have been predicted. After all, weed was the world's most popular illicit drug; demand has never been an issue. Yet the quick shift surprised the union, which now has a new breed of cannabis entrepreneur to try and deal with. Gone are the activists. Now there are investors.

“In a few short years, we went from guys in jeans and tie-dye, to guys in bad suits, to guys in very expensive Canali suits,” UFCW aide Ferro says.

The newcomers also have new values. Today's cannabis industry has a very strong libertarian streak that's more in line with Silicon Valley's anarcho-capitalism than with true-blue Democratic populism.

At the end of June, the National Cannabis Business Association held its annual conference in Denver, where it threw a $2,700-per-person fundraiser for a presidential candidate: Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. If this is where weed is going — libertarian and investor-fetishizing, just like tech — then that is bad news for workers.

Some cannabis startups have the same worker problems as some of Silicon Valley's highest-valued companies. The drivers who work for Eaze, a company that promises to deliver marijuana ordered from a smartphone in as little as 10 minutes, are not employees but independent contractors. Fittingly, Eaze calls itself the “Uber of marijuana.” Just like Uber drivers are on their own if there's an accident, Eaze drivers assume all the risk involved in driving around the city with 8 ounces of cannabis packaged for sale, something done at their peril even in San Francisco. Last year, an independent delivery driver was pulled over and charged with three felonies by District Attorney George Gascón.

These issues show how far cannabis has come to being a legitimate industry. Like other industries, marijuana is now dominated by capital and the cult of entrepreneurship. In a way, it shows how the union's early efforts — all aimed at getting politicians and the public to drop Reefer Madness rhetoric and take notice — have borne fruit. “At first we went top down. Now, we're fighting the top,” says Rush, who says he doesn't feel betrayed by union-doubting industry figures like Harborside's DeAngelo, to whom Rush introduced pols like Newsom. “This is the natural course of every industry.”

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Cannabis's independence is also not an entirely bad thing for the worker. Unlike in other industries, the path from bottom-rung employee to cannabis business owner can be very short. Skills learned at a dispensary counter or in a grow room can be easily ported to one's own enterprise.

At the same time, a skilled workforce with standardized training will be valuable to capital as well. One entrepreneur I spoke to, Ata Gonzalez of G Farma Labs — a company that produces pre-rolls, chocolates, and hash oil — was an Oaksterdam University student at around the time Rush organized the workers there. Now, Gonzalez is planning to open a 90,000-square-foot production facility that could employ 75 people. When I ask him who will work there and if he's been talking to the union, he responds quickly: “Do you have their number?”

Cannabis still presents labor's best chance in memory to ensure a developing industry that appears poised to be worker-friendly. “It's our future,” Rush says, simply.

The industry's new libertarian, “we'll handle this ourselves” tone is an attitude shift that's also a sign of cannabis's maturation from movement to huge commercial enterprise. But as the balance of power between labor and capital is being determined, it's being done in an old-school way: by political connections and in back rooms, worlds still fairly foreign to marijuana. “Something we really don't have access to is going to make or break our ability to move forward,” one cannabis advocate told me on condition of anonymity. “That's really fucking annoying.”

In earlier years, when politicians' doors were closed, the cannabis movement welcomed the union. Now, says Araby, “It's 'we don't need outsiders to tell us how to run our business.' They sound like any other corporate person.”

 

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