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Toward a More Perfect Pot Union


The November 2022 elections saw 21 U.S. States legalize cannabis recreationally. Some of them are now thriving with full-blown marijuana commerce. The rapidly growing industry has thousands of talented and motivated workers. Many of them are actively seeking to form union partnerships or creating new ones. 

The unionization of cannabis workers in America is estimated at anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000. 


Some California cannabis employees are part of UFCW—United Food and Commercial Workers—the largest cannabis workers union in the country, representing over 10,000 employees nationwide. 

UFCW Local 5—which presently represents over 500 weed workers across the famed “Bay Area” of Northern California—is branching out beyond representing dispensary workers, as in June 2021, when UFCW brokered a historic first-ever agreement to unionize workers at both a California-based cannabis manufacturer, CannaCraft Manufacturing, and at a cannabis lab, Sonoma Lab Works. 

Jim Araby (Director of Strategic Campaigns at UFCW 5) was our lucky interviewee. Araby was asked what unionization would bring to the cannabis industry and individual workers.

“The worker benefits are very clear, such as the difference between union and non-union wages in the companies we’ve organized in the Bay Area. Delivery drivers and DIspensary workers make $3-to-4 more an hour than non-union counterparts.

“Also union workers are not subjected to ‘at-will’ hiring-and-firing, instead, they have to go through an actual process for ‘just cause’ so if they get fired for some reason, there’s a procedure in place, whereas non-union workers just get fired immediately under the ‘at-will’ law.

“The other big thing is; with the way the cannabis industry is now, in terms of there being a lot of large mergers and acquisitions happening, I think workers are protected in such spaces if they organize. We were able protect workers and maintain their jobs when the Chronic News, Have a Heart and Harvest merger took place a few years back (2020). 

“In terms of labor-management partnerships, we can lobby with legislators in order to create a more streamlined regulatory process so that businesses can expand and thrive, and workers can get a piece of that. And we’re focused on labor management partnerships and fighting companies that don’t recognize labor’s right to organize.”

Araby discussed the significance of cannabis unionization: “Because there’s going to be tens of thousands of people who work in the industry, and if workers don’t have rights, if they don’t have a voice, it’s going to end up the same way that every non-union industry is, where big corporations are going to control the wages and benefits of workers in this industry.

“But with the unions having a foothold as this industry grows, it at least gives workers and the communities a much more sustainable industry both in terms of what the community can expect, and ultimately, what workers can expect.

“We organized CannaCraft—a cannabis manufacturer based in Santa Rosa, CA—last year and that was pretty significant because, at the time, that company was going to unilaterally issue 20 to 30 percent pay-cuts for everybody and we were able to stop that. We were also able to use a smoother approach and bargain in good faith with the company to maintain most jobs at the plant as well as being on the pathway to create Cal OSHA—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—standards.” 


Tikun Olam workers, which is a cannabis cultivation company based in Adelanto, California, received an early Christmas present when they unanimously ratified a labor contract with Teamsters Local 1932. Tikun, a massive urban region located just south of coastal Southern California’s Inland Empire was made unionized by this act. The Collective bargaining Agreement (CBA), was approved by Tikun workers after they voted for unionization. The contract was not the only one. Teamsters 1932 and the company agreed to be partners to offer training opportunities via apprenticeships for Tikun workers and all of the industry. 

This development is discussed below. Chronic NewsIt was possible to contact Abraham Gallegos, Teamsters Local 1932 Business Agent Organizer, and Kenneth P. Ocean Cultivation Technician, at Tikun Ola, to get their perspective on this article. 

Mr. Ocean explained the process that led to his company joining Teamsters: “I was with the company for about six months before we voted to unionize about a year ago. The union won unanimously. One hundred percent wanted it that way. Unionization gives us the opportunity to build a career and job security.

“The management here was having struggles and miscommunicating as far as procedures, so we felt a union could help us a lot more in every direction, including obtaining safety equipment that we needed to have on hand to do our job properly. The union also provides benefits. Plus, the products we produce are ten times better now that we’re with the union.”

This was confirmed by Abe Gallegos, Teamters. 

“Tikun Olam went for months without generating revenue. There was a lot of turnover, constant firings, and failures in crop production. The unionization has resulted in great cannabis production here at Adelanto. It’s been a complete 180 degree turnaround at that cultivation facility.

“Fortunately, here in California we have a Labor Peace Agreement (LPA) law, which means any company with ten or more employees has to sign an LPA to get their business licensing in California, which prevents them from engaging in union-busting.”  

In the legal city of Chicago, in March 2022, Windy City weed workers at not one but two cannabis retail store locations—in the Logan Square and River North neighborhoods—both voted unanimously to enter into a CBA with Teamsters Local 777. It was one of the most significant Teamster contracts ever in Illinois’ cannabis industry. 

This unionization is discussed. Chronic News was fortunate to extensively interview Jim Glimco, President of Teamsters 777, and he shared: “We negotiated a fantastic agreement at Modern Cannabis (MoCa) that covers two locations. What’s exciting about this industry is that we have momentum on our side; cannabis workers throughout Illinois are hearing about what’s happening and asking how they can sign up. The level of enthusiasm I’ve seen from workers in this industry is really exciting.”

Glimco spoke out about the value of unions.

“For workers, the benefits are obvious; a union gives them better wages, better benefits, greater job security, a safer workplace, a voice on the job and so much more. Employers also have many benefits. A CBA provides clear guidelines for a workplace. This creates an environment that is stable and allows the management to make decisions. Employers who have union shops experience lower turnover are better able to spend less on hiring talent. 

“For cannabis specifically, given the ugly and tragic history of its criminalization, I think it’s important to consumers that employers demonstrate a commitment to social justice. When employers allow the process of unionization to play out fairly and bargain in good faith, it demonstrates that they’re serious about this, and their customers appreciate it.”

The majority of drivers and employees at Nabis Cannabis’ Los Angeles-based cannabis distribution firm Nabis Cannabis voted for a CBA with Teamsters Local 630. Like the CBA at Tikun Ola, this labor agreement is more significant because it shows that unionization has moved beyond simply representing retail businesses.

Matt McQuaid, Communications Project Manager with the Teamsters’ Dept. of Strategic Initiatives, told us: “Teamsters represent around 500 members working in cannabis nationwide in legal states like Illinois, California and Massachusetts.”

Further, McQuaid confirmed that it was “exciting” that the Teamsters were representing Nabis, a distribution company, adding: “That was cool because unfortunately a lot of agricultural workers don’t have collective bargaining rights in some parts of the country. But in California, they do.”


In September 2021, Washington D.C.-based nonprofit think tank the Economic Policy Institute issued a report entitled “Ensuring the high road in cannabis” that argued for strong unionization within the rapidly expanding legal-use industry. 

The report posits a “low road” scenario, in which employees in the cannabis industry endure the same inequities that non-union workers face in similarly aligned industries like agriculture. Workers are subject to these harmful policies and practices, which include low wages and minimal health benefits such as adequate insurance. As well as the aforementioned ‘at will’ restrictions that threaten a worker with unemployment at a moment’s notice, often unfairly.  

By way of contrast, the “high road” paradigm utilizes unionization to ensure that the workers are protected from arbitrary firings, and earn a fair wage.  A union contract could increase the annual earnings of cannabis workers by as much as $8,700 to over $2800, according to the report.

UFCW’s Jim Araby weighed in on the EPI report: “Obviously I agree with their findings because fundamentally unions provide certain things to workers that they don’t have when they’re not in a union. First, unions provide a path to higher wages and better benefits. The fair system allows for all types of discipline to be applied and to work conditions to be maintained. And third, it provides a career pathway so that workers can advance throughout the industry, gain knowledge and skills and get paid for it as they grow, such as through an apprenticeship program.” 


Many law firms can offer services for union avoidance that help businesses prevent employees from becoming unionized. These include using fear tactics and pressure to discourage workers from considering unionization.  This sub-industry might be hidden to the general public but it still has great influence in other industries affected by worker rights being undermined and workers gains. 

Araby is all too aware: “Union avoidance firms are a growing presence in the cannabis industry; the big union-busting law firms like Morgan Lewis and Littler Mendelson, as well as others, see [union avoidance]As a growing industry. 

“We know that some cannabis companies have these law firms on retainer (fees paid in advance to law firms to utilize their services when needed).  They will also create fake unions to circumvent labor agreements. So we know this is around, and the best way to deal with that is to make sure we engage workers and we get some enforcement on the regulatory side from the state, as well as have the federal government go after law firms that knowingly break labor laws.”

Glimco agreed union avoidance firms pose a threat to unionization in the industry: “Unfortunately, their scare tactics and lies can have an effect on people. What I’ve seen in cannabis is the solidarity and excitement shown by these workers. For that reason, union-busting in cannabis hasn’t been as effective as it might be at some other businesses.”

Glimco suggested how workers may oppose union avoidance firm intrusion: “The best way to combat these firms is to have a united, educated group of workers, and a strong organizing committee prepared for an anti-union campaign ahead of time. Workers will be less effective if they are aware of the coming anti-union propaganda. 

“There’s also a number of union avoidance consultants who used to be employed by a union, but then got fired for wrong-doing or incompetence. When workers find that out, they tend to doubt the credibility of the union busters.”


UFCW 7 staged a demonstration in April 2022. Union members led by Jimena Peterson protested outside Denver’s cannabis plant facilities. Green Dragon is a weed franchise based in Colorado as well Florida. 

After Ryan Milligan, Green Dragon’s co-owner and chief cultivator fired three growhouse workers in support of efforts to unionize their workforce, the protestors objected to Milligan’s union-busting methods. 

And it’s far from mere material gains that would-be unionizers want to see changed; Green Dragon staff reported a facility full of mold and insects. The company has ignored employees’ requests for adequate ventilation. 

Araby was understandably critical: “Union busting is disgusting as it goes, and as the [Green Dragon]The case proved that the company was responsible, and so the election had to be rerun. Workers won their union in June 2022, and now they have a contract.

“When employers spend resources on preventing workers from organizing and having rights at work, they’re basically spending resources against the democratic process. We at UFCW think that money should be better spent on allowing the workers to decide if they want a union or not.” 

Teamsters Glimco added: “Union busting is very prevalent. Many of the organizations we worked with had union-busting employees and used dirty tactics once they filed for elections. In an attempt to intimidate workers into organizing, they fired employees and lie to staff. There have been many unfair labor practice charges filed against companies for bad behavior, and we’ve won almost all of them.”


Unions can be very beneficial to both workers and employers, but they also have their flaws. Complaints include excessive dues that don’t justify the benefits as well as unions functioning as little more than another division of the corporation, intended to keep potentially more excessive worker demands under control.  

Jim Glimco addressed such concerns: “Workers don’t pay dues until after they have ratified their first contract. You can see any collective bargaining agreement that Teamsters Local777 has negotiated, whether it’s in cannabis or another industry. If you do the math, you’ll see that the wages and benefits our members receive is exponentially more than the cost of dues. Your union membership will provide you with a small fraction of the benefits that are available to your economy.

“This union’s direction is guided by the rank-and-file. The shop stewards and contract ratifications are decided directly by our members. Additionally, the union is an organizationally bottom-up one. Local affiliates are autonomous and have most of the power within the Teamsters.”

As referenced by Glimco, a “rank-and-file committee” refers to a center of workplace democracy created by the actual workers of a company as opposed to a traditional union hierarchy. 

UFCW’s Jim Araby fully supports the rank-and-file system:  “The core value of any union is worker democracy, so the more workers want to take ownership of the union, the better. That is the support of 110 percent. This is important because fundamentally, you don’t win a strong contract if workers aren’t involved.  

“If the union believes workers are nothing more than dues-paying memes and they don’t actually deserve rights in the union, then shame on the union for doing that. UFCW believes that workers should organize and participate in their workplace democracy. 

“In every single cannabis company I’ve organized there has been a rank-and-file worker committee at the bargaining table, with me bargaining that contract.” 

Araby was asked by a reporter what employees should do about union-related complaints and issues.

“When workers feel that way, they should move up the chain to get to the union leaders so that they can understand why workers are feeling that way. The union is only as strong as the worker’s participation in it. It is only what you put in that counts. 

“But I do think if workers feel the union is not responsive to their issues, they should show up to the union hall and demand a response from the union, because they are the union, and they invest in this organization (union) and they deserve everything they expect from it.

“We have to keep fiercely advocating for worker’s rights in the workplace, fighting for union recognition, and bargaining for strong contracts. At the local state and federal level we have to fiercely advocate for the decriminalization of cannabis as well as the legalization of cannabis, and assert the workers’ voice to be an essential part of these state and local laws.”

The Teamsters’ Glimco reiterated his reverence for rank-and-file: “Rank-and-file committees are the backbone of our entire organization, from the shop floor all the way to international level, so we are certainly supportive of them. They are responsible for winning elections as well as securing collectively bargaining agreements. These workers are responsible for deciding the priorities in collective bargaining. They also decide what workplace issues should be addressed and the actions that must be taken during organizing campaigns. 

“We even have rank-and-file members on the negotiating committees for our national contracts, some of which cover tens of thousands of members. Workers do not hire representatives to represent them. The union does not act as a neutral third party. Rank-and-file Teamster members organize and bargain on behalf of themselves, and the local union is here to facilitate that process.” 


UFCW Jim Araby was ambivalent when asked about the future of cannabis unionization: “It’s yet to be seen if the industry itself believes in the union model; I would say some companies we work with value such partnerships and others who are sitting on the sidelines or even aggressively fighting us.”

Yet he still offered optimism: “If unions don’t give up when it gets hard, workers are going to get more and more organized. We have to struggle and fight because as it becomes legal across the country, you’re going to see more and more larger companies getting involved that are not necessarily friendly to unions, and we’re already seeing this. So we have to harness the strength of the existing workers we represent and have to continue to fight for workers’ space in the center of all these legalization efforts. 

“The challenge is; how do we get skilled and trained workers into that field so the companies can retain their workers?  So we’re trying to figure something out with local community colleges to see if there are any federal or state grants we can pull down to do workforce training and development training so internal candidates can grow in that job. 

“The future of the cannabis industry, and union workers within it, is positive, but I can’t tell you it’s going to be one hundred percent going our way.  But I know as long as I’m in the union, we’re fighting for this and the union is fighting for this, and we’re moving in a positive direction.”

The Teamsters’ Matt McQuaid opined: “I definitely see unionization increasing. I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm among people in this industry for unions and you’re only going to see it grow.

“It’s really important that in these companies that are making so much money, that cannabis workers feel like this can be a career. It’s important that they can stay in this industry for their entire lives, if they want to. You can get wage increases and benefits from a union.  If somebody wants to work in this industry for 23 years, they should be able to do that and the union makes that possible.” 

His fellow Teamsters brother Jim Glimco was equally infused with optimism: “I think the track record of organized labor in the cannabis industry shows that we’re doing the right things to ensure that this is a successful endeavor. Ten years ago there weren’t many unionized workers in the cannabis industry. Now there are hundreds. Over the long-term, I’d like to see some of the larger players in the industry negotiate national master agreements with our union. 

“As far as benefiting the whole industry, right now, a lot of people want to stay in the cannabis business, but they can’t because they need better wages and benefits. That problem can be solved by a union. The more unions there are in cannabis, the more we will have the right people in the right positions.”

Glimco “absolutely” expects cannabis unionization to increase. He elaborated: “Of the 21 states where recreational cannabis is currently legal, only five of them are right-to-work (which enables companies to suppress unionization efforts).”

“However, even in the right-to-work states, the Teamsters Union is strong. Maryland and Missouri are two states that have strong labor movements, just recently legalizing it. New York has the highest concentration of union members, and recreational dispensaries have just opened. 

“Many of these states and municipalities are very smartly requiring labor peace agreements from employers as a condition of securing licenses.  This means that employers have to agree that they won’t engage in union-busting if the workers seek union representation. All of this portends well for cannabis unionization.”

Tikun Olam grow tech Kenneth Ocean was asked about what advice he would give to workers at a cannabis company with less than ideal conditions and management who were seeking to unionize: “I’d tell them to try to reach out to someone with your local Teamsters and find out the information you need to unionize. There is nothing to lose and much to gain.

“We got involved when our union steward–and cannabis cultivation lead–Doug Herring contacted the Teamsters and filed the paperwork with them and got in touch with Abe Gallegos. Teamsters 1932 made the unionization process happen pretty quick.”

When asked the same question, Abe Gallegos built upon Ken Ocean’s advice: “This industry is filled with brand new cannabis workers, the younger generation, so it’s up to them to set their expectations for a career going forward. Talking to workers in this industry, you find a lot still don’t understand their basic rights. Some of these people work at companies that don’t pay them until the company makes sales, so you have workers who aren’t being paid timely, which isn’t legal. 

“Unionization is a process that everyone is entitled to, and they can reach out to whatever union they want to talk to, and then put together their own voices to unionize. Although Teamsters are the representatives of workers, at the end the union is the workers. They’re the ones who will push the industry to the next level.  

“The steps to unionize are easy; contact a local union rep, then from that point we empower the worker so they can take ownership of their workplace experience.”

We let Teamsters 777 President Jim Glimco have the last word as he looked to a potentially dazzling future: “I think as legalization spreads you’re going to see unionization expand into the entire cannabis supply chain. On the west coast, we’re already winning elections at distribution companies and growers, and I think that’s an exciting indicator of what’s on the horizon. There’s no reason we can’t live in a world where one day every hand that touches the plant, from harvest to retail, belongs to a union member.”