Update:After the announcement that Budding Health medical marijuana centers are unionizing, we reached out to the Cannabis Business Association, whose president, Bob Hoban, had said last year it was premature to mandate labor pacts in such a young industry. We've now spoken to Shawn Coleman, interim executive director of the CBA, who echoes this point.
"I believe most people who work in the industry are in the industry for the right reasons," Coleman says. "People are treating each other very well and there's not a big issue of employee abuse. We never tell anyone what to do, and if they feel it is in the best interest of their business and employees to [join the union], that's their decision. But there are more pressing issues we need to be addressing."
Coleman adds that dispensaries should be focusing on more pressing problems, like local bans, moratoriums and other hindrances to business. "It's those practical aspects of running a business that we need to address," he notes. "We should be able to operate like any other business."
Original item, 2:59 p.m. February 15: Employees of the Budding Health medical marijuana centers have signed on with the local United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
They are the first MMJ workers in Denver to do so.
In an announcement sent out last Friday, UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova hints at talks with other shops, saying that she expects employees from "more than a dozen" centers around Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder to join up in the coming weeks. Medical marijuana is a "significant job creator and a source of much-needed tax revenue" for the state, she notes, adding that "the union is committed to representing the hardworking and compassionate workers in the medical cannabis retail centers and promoting guidelines to safeguard the interest of our members and the communities our members work in."
Though a relatively new idea in Colorado, medical marijuana employees started unionizing in California several years ago. Denver is the second Colorado city to see unionized pot employees; workers at a handful of Fort Collins centers joined the UFCW last October. That partnership was somewhat short-lived, though. Despite the UFCW helping to fight a citywide ban on medical marijuana dispensaries that voters passed in November, Fort Collins is forcing all MMCs to shut down by midnight tonight.
The UFCW is the largest union in Colorado, with more than 25,000 members from the food, retail and health-care industries.
Budding Health owner and Medical Marijuana Industry Group co-founder Josh Stanley says he's supportive of his workers unionizing. "The alliance with Local 7 is a bold step to take back our industry and aggressively implement guidelines and best business practices to further legitimize and stabilize our industry," he says.
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But not every supporter of MMJ is a proponent of unionization right now. "The Cannabis Business Alliance is intended to support small and medium-sized businesses in this industry -- not just dispensaries, but supply companies, etc.," CBA president Bob Hoban said last October. "And we're not going to take a position to dictate how and when small businesses should employ people. They should decide on their own how they're going to staff their labor force."
Representatives from the CBA did not have a comment when contacted for this story, beyond saying their position hasn't changed. However, they added that they're working on a response they plan to make public in the next few days.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana retail ban passes in Fort Collins despite union help fighting it."