Medical marijuana & unions: Cannabis Business Alliance says it's too soon to organize industry

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News that the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 had organized medical marijuana workers turned out to be less sweeping than it first seemed. Only staffers at several Fort Collins dispensaries have joined, with the UFCW's contributions to fighting an MMJ dispensary ban there likely influencing ownership buy-in. Meanwhile, the Cannabis Business Alliance is decidedly lukewarm about recommending that more centers don the union label.

Any suggestion that "the entire industry is unionizing isn't exactly true," says Bob Hoban, an attorney who currently chairs the CBA board. "It's important to note that this is a very, very young industry. We don't even have reliable banking yet, and no lending. So it's in its infancy, and it's way too early to tell whether or not this industry will go union.

"There are a few centers up in Fort Collins that have gotten close to the unions because, I believe, of funding on the ballot question" -- Question 300, which would prohibit the retail sale of medical marijuana. "But from the CBA's perspective, telling any small business in this industry to do anything in regard to its labor force at this time is premature at best."

This stance shouldn't be interpreted as anti-worker, Hoban stresses -- but rather as a recognition of the nascent stage of commercial development.

"The Cannabis Business Alliance is intended to support small and medium-size businesses in this industry -- not just dispensaries, but supply companies, etc. 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."

Hoban is pleased the UFCW is assisting Fort Collins dispensaries whose very existence is endangered by the November 1 vote on Question 300, and who face an uphill fight in the estimation of opposition leader Steve Ackerman. After all, off-year elections tend to be dominated by older voters who may not favor MMJ -- and a decision not to send mail-in ballots to anyone who didn't vote in 2010 makes the challenge of reaching supporters even greater. But he says the UFCW hasn't yet reached out to the Cannabis Business Alliance about broadening the unionization efforts -- "and even if they did, it's just too early. Way too early."

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