Union seeks to represent medicinal cannabis workers in Washington

Supporters have found a new ally in the fight to preserve the medical marijuana industry in Washington.

The United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 367 announced this week that it has taken the first step in organizing workers who staff medicinal marijuana facilities in the state.

The union claims to have joined with a Puyallup medicinal marijuana enterprise, Dutch Master’s Organic Gardens, in a “shared commitment to find regulatory solutions for the industry.”

The effort to organize is part of a campaign, “Cannabis Workers Rising,” being fostered nationwide by the parent union, said UFCW Local 367 secretary-treasurer Daniel Comeau.

The campaign, according to the UFCW website, is being mounted “to bring more professionalism and stability to this emerging sector of the health care industry.”

Workers in the industry, the website says, “are coming together to shape an industry that will provide good jobs while serving the needs of our patients. Through collective bargaining, workers are ensuring better training, less turnover, and better pay and benefits.”

The union already represents “thousands of medical cannabis workers in six states and the District of Columbia. UFCW members in the cannabis industry work predominantly in dispensaries, coffee shops, bakeries, patient identification centers, hydroponics stores, and growing and training facilities,” the website states.

If successful in organizing new members, Comeau said, workers “would be seeing some of the same things that our members do in other industries.”

The union represents workers in several industries, including the grocery and food-processing sectors, and retail trade.

“The union’s goal is to bring stability to this blossoming industry in Washington for all cannabis workers,” said Local 367 President Denise Jagielo in the release.

Washington currently operates a two-tier system of marijuana distribution. Under Initiative 502, growing, processing and sales of retail marijuana are heavily regulated by the state Liquor Control Board.

The business of medicinal marijuana is less regulated in Washington, and the most recent Legislature saw bills in both the Senate and House to attach legal reins more closely resembling those required under Initiative 502, which legalized retail sales.

“We’re really in first steps,” Comeau said earlier this week. “Everybody knows about 502. Retail shops have been opening up, the Liquor Control Board is implementing rules. We want to see if we can work out some regulatory solutions.”

Comeau said that new members, by joining the union, could collectively bargain such matters wages and health benefits as well as finding power in solidarity.

He said he was unaware of any specific plans or legislation that lobbyists might propose to the Legislature.

“Right now, there isn’t really a plan,” he said. “I know that there are things we want to look into.”