Medical marijuana workers joining UFCW Local 7: Is weed a growth area for unions?

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The conflict between federal and state laws present a challenge to the medical marijuana industry, as last week's DEA raid on the Cherry Top Farms dispensary demonstrates. But there's also growing institutional acceptance, illustrated by today's press conference announcing the unionization of many MMJ workers via the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. What's UFCW director of organizing Mark Belkin's take?

"Right now, we're looking at several hundred workers who have voted overwhelmingly to join the UFCW," says Belkin, who'll take part at an 11 a.m. press conference at Local 7's offices, 7760 West 38th Avenue, Suite 400, in Wheat Ridge. "Our employees are committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with the industry and its workers."

The deal isn't a one-shot, he emphasizes. "The UFCW now has a medical cannabis and hemp industry division in the international union. So this is a deep and long-term commitment."

Colorado is the second state in the U.S. to formalize this relationship, following California -- and such efforts won't stop here. In Belkin's words, "there are currently organizing campaigns and initiatives taking place in more than a dozen states." He adds that Local 7 has been meeting with MMJ representatives here "for several months. The organizing campaign kicked off in earnest about two months ago, and we're getting a very positive response. I think the workers in the industry see that the UFCW can help to stabilize and legitimize the industry."

It's no secret that union membership in this country has been declining in recent years, with labor being a frequent target of conservative politicians, among others. As such, gaining a foothold in one of the few enterprises that's actually expanding despite the dismal economy has to be considered a coup for the UFCW. Meanwhile, the medical marijuana industry is now linked to a powerful lobbying organization whose backing could be critical as efforts intensify to legalize MMJ in more states.

As for Belkin, he points out that "we have 100 years of experience in representing workers who produce items for human consumption. And we see the medical cannabis industry as a core industry for UFCW and Local 7 now and in the future."

Look below to read the UFCW Local 7 release about today's get-together. Those quoted include Steve Ackerman, an MMC owner currently fighting an attempt to ban dispensaries in Fort Collins, and Kim Cordova, profiled in the Westword feature "Can a mild-mannered bakery clerk solve the grocery workers' labor strife?"

Colorado Medical Cannabis Industry Goes Union Joins UFCW Local 7

Denver -- On Monday, October 17th workers, labor and community leaders will gather to announce that a comprehensive cross section of hundreds of Colorado's medical cannabis industry workers have voted overwhelmingly to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, the largest Union in Colorado with over 25, 000 members.

"We are proud to join our new sisters and brothers in the 1.3 million member UFCW family of retail grocery, pharmacy workers, agriculture workers, food processors, meat cutters, textile workers, and health care workers in North America. We realize that medical cannabis is part of the retail healthcare, agriculture, and food processing industry and our Union is the industry Union of all these categories. It's a natural fit, and we are very proud to be part of Local 7 and UFCW's International family" said Steve Ackerman of Organic Alternatives a retail medical cannabis center.

Local 7 President, Kim Cordova said: "We are the retail food, pharmacy, agriculture, food processing, and healthcare Union in Colorado and around the nation. Our Union has over 100 years experience representing these very types of workers. We intend for our Collective Bargaining agreements to serve as a first line of regulation in the communities our members work in, and we are proud to do it." UFCW Local # 7 is located in Wheat Ridge, in the Denver Metro area.

The medical cannabis retail industry employs more than 8,000 workers and Contributes tens of millions of tax dollars to the Colorado economy...

****Local 7, the largest Union in Colorado is affiliated with United Food and Commercial Workers International Union which represents over 1.3 million workers in the United States and Canada, and is one of the largest private sector Unions in North America. UFCW members work in a wide range of industries, including retail food, food processing, agriculture, retail sales, health care, manufacturing, and medical cannabis. UFCW and our members are dedicated to a dignified, controlled, taxed, regulated, compliant, unionized medical cannabis industry. We stand in solidarity with the workers and patients of the unionized medical cannabis industry.****

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana raid: Feds seized 2,500 plants from Cherry Top Farms after following suspect's truck."

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