Policy Guides

The Essential Guide to Cannabis: Worker's Rights

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The unionization of cannabis is only beginning.

Right now, a multitude of national and state-based unions are reaching out to workers in the cannabis industry - from Teamsters to SEIU. In the short term, it will be interesting to see which unions end up attracting a majority of cannabis workers. In the long term, those unions will be integral to decisions made about cannabis workers’ rights in each state, as well as at the federal level if cannabis is federally legalized.

Right now, the cannabis industry does not have one specific union.

Even in the same state, two dispensaries may sign contracts with two different unions. In the first year of New York’s medical marijuana market (2016), for example, all five new medical marijuana companies formed deals with unions, but not with the same union. Four went with the state-based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union but the fifth went with national health care union SEIU.

The major unions involved in the cannabis industry right now:
  • Teamsters: while different in every state, it focuses heavily on cannabis transportation services and armored trucks.

  • United Food and Commercial Workers: focuses especially on employees involved in cannabis cultivation, testing and sales

    • Began its “Cannabis Workers Rising” campaign in 2010, is probably the union with the largest number of cannabis industry workers.

    • Seattle cannabis company Have a Heart signed a deal with UFCW, unionizing its 137 employees and the company in 2018. 

    • Minnesota Medical Solutions in 2017 signed deal with UFCW

  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU): focuses on security personnel (Illinois) and also is a second destination for workers involved in cultivation, production or distribution of cannabis products.

Workman’s Comp and worker safety regulations are both issues controlled by states for all industries, even those outside of cannabis. It has been hard, though, for businesses to offer workman’s comp because the major national insurance brands - like Nationwide or Liberty Mutual - won’t offer plans to businesses within the cannabis industry as long as it is federally illegal or protections aren’t extended to them, much like banks. So workmans’ comp insurance is handled mostly by state-wide insurance companies, or specialty insurance companies like Praxis or Atlas.

Colorado insurance company Pinnacol Assurance reported 350 claims out of 3,000 cannabis-related businesses for the year of 2018. 

The major injuries:

  • Strain
  • Cut
  • Fall or slip
  • Struck by (being hit by something)
  • Strike (person hitting something)

Download the full chapter here. 

Read more from POLITICO Pro Cannabis here

Content produced outside of the POLITICO Pro newsroom.

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