By ERNIE GOTTA

Cannabis workers at the Greenleaf Compassion Care Center in Portsmouth, R.I., notified their employer on Tuesday, Feb. 16, that they had formed a union and were seeking representation from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 328.

The organizing committee stated in a response to Socialist Resurgence’s request for an interview, “We felt as a majority that we could improve the communication and conditions of our work environment if we had a collective voice. We believe it is imperative for cannabis workers to organize because of how the cannabis industry has grown exponentially in the last few years. Unionizing can effectively turn jobs in the cannabis industry into careers in the cannabis industry.”

UFCW Local 328 posted on social media, “An overwhelming majority of workers have shown support for unionizing. While we wait to hear a response from the company, a union election has been simultaneously filed. We call on the company to do what’s right and to respect the wishes of their employees to organize.”

Since the broader decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in many places across the U.S., business is booming. A recent article by industry website Marijuana Business Daily states, “Retail sales of medical and recreational cannabis in the United States are on pace to eclipse $15 billion by the end of 2020, an increase of approximately 40% over 2019 sales figures, according to exclusive projections from the 2020 edition of the Marijuana Business Factbook. Total U.S. sales could rise as high as $37 billion by 2024, according to exclusive projections from the latest Factbook, which was released Monday at MJBizConNEXT Direct.”

Workers at Greenleaf Compassion Care Center are not alone. Cannabis workers are organizing across the country with the UFCW. The union launched a national organizing campaign in 2011 that faced many organizational hardships that go along with a national organizing drive but also political and legal battles as the industry was emerging from the largely underground economy in different states but not yet legalized federally.

Since then, cannabis workers have been getting organized to gain a voice in the industry. As COVID pandemic failed to slow down industry growth, 2020 was also a big year for unionization among cannabis workers. In December workers at CannTech in Pennsylvania ratified their first contract. In New England UFCW Local 328 won a union vote at New England Treatment Access and ratified a contract in October at the Ocean State Cultivation Center in Rhode Island.

The burst in unionization is no surprise as organized cannabis workers have received higher pay, better benefits, improved schedules, and working conditions compared to their non-union counterparts. Unionization for many cannabis workers has also meant the ability to negotiate over hazard pay and working conditions during the pandemic.

Similarly, workers at Greenleaf stated, “Our demands are aimed at creating a healthier and happier workplace that is more conducive to our short term physical and mental health and our long-term financial stability. We look forward to working with our employer to create an improved environment in our Compassion Center for both workers and patients.”

Socialist Resurgence stands in solidarity with the workers’ organizing drive at Greenleaf and elsewhere, and encourages all cannabis workers to follow their example!

Illustration by General Strike Graphics