Unions Seek to Boost Role and Ranks

Organized labor has started spending money on early polling to gauge interest in legalizing cannabis in California in 2016 — a move that could double the $2.7 billion national cannabis market.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

“If and when it is legalized, tens of thousands of jobs would be created,” said Jim Araby, executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council in Oakland, which has 160,000 members in California — including some unionized “budtenders” at dispensaries and others employees along the cannabis supply chain.

Labor unions, led by Araby’s union, are taking a much more active role in the legalization movement than they did during 2010’s failed ballot measure campaign. Not only are they playing a more prominent role in crafting legalization ballot measures — at least one of which is expected to be before voters in November 2016 — but they’re also part of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy studying the potential effect of legalization in California, which met publicly for the first time Tuesday in Los Angeles.

“Among the voters who have the potential to be persuaded on a legalization measure, employee standards are a key component of building support,” according to a memo written by David Binder, a San Francisco pollster who has worked for President Obama’s campaigns and conducted the survey on behalf of labor.

One piece of legislation in Sacramento that’s designed to reform the medical marijuana industry in Sacramento illustrates how labor is trying to get a foothold in the rapidly growing industry: by pointing out what an unregulated mess the current medical cannabis system is. It leaves “workers and consumers vulnerable to a host of potential hazards,” according to a letter Araby wrote to the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, which is considering AB266.

The measure would create a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the state Department of Consumer Affairs. Among other provisions, the proposed law would implement certification requirements and safety standards for cannabis industry workers similar to those of workers who have long been unionized, like electricians.

The Chronicle notes union talk isn’t scaring off big money.

“It’s not an issue I’ve heard people talk about yet,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of the ArcView Group. “But I think this is the first state where it plays a role.”

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