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Medical Marijuana Workers in California Join Union Local
    #425847 - 05/30/10 01:46 AM (6 years, 4 months ago)

Medical Marijuana Workers in California Join Union Local
May 28, 2010 - New York Times

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jimmy Hoffa would be stoked.

In what cannabis fans were calling a high-water mark for their movement to legitimize the drug, about 100 employees of medical marijuana businesses in Oakland were welcomed to the ranks of unionized workers on Friday after voting to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 5.

The move — which union officials said was the first time medical marijuana employees had been so represented — was hailed by the local’s leadership, who called their new members “great workers.”

“This is a natural for us,” said Ron Lind, the president of Local 5, whose 26,000 other members work primarily in groceries and meat markets. “Our union’s primary jurisdiction is retail.”

The move was also welcomed by Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, the medical marijuana trade school whose Oakland campus employs some 60 newly unionized members in its dispensary, gift shop and nursery. (For plants, not children.) Mr. Lee that said his employees were already offered health benefits and paid vacation, but that the union imprimatur was an important milestone in the battle to bring marijuana more into the mainstream.

“It’s one more step towards ending federal restrictions,” said Mr. Lee, a leading proponent of a November ballot measure that would legalize, regulate and tax the drug in California. Marijuana, legal for medical use in California and more than a dozen other states, is still prohibited by federal law.

Officials in Oakland, which has an unemployment rate of more than 17 percent, also cheered the move — and the movement — as a potential boon for the city.

For the workers themselves, however, their new status as union members was something of a personal triumph.

“Now I can go home to my parents and they can see it’s a good thing and a normal thing,” said Cassie Leone, a tattooed 24-year-old who works at a local marijuana dispensary. It made her feel like a “hardworking human being,” she said. “Which is what I am.”


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