When California voters passed Prop. 64 in November, 2016, they legalized the growing, use, and sales of recreational marijuana. The state is now working out how to generate taxes from the new product and ensure that it is properly regulated, for the benefit of customers and workers, alike. In addition, since medical marijuana has been legal in the state for 20 years, the regulators need to ensure that the regulations are consistent for both aspects of the industry.
Whether you are for or against recreational marijuana legalization, it’s here. This is an industry that already employs more than 165 thousand people across the U.S. According to the Marijuana Business Daily, California’s recreational market alone could eventually bring in between $4.5 billion and $5 billion in annual retail sales, so the impact of legalization on business and employment opportunities in the state is massive.
Similar to how liquor was regulated after the repeal of Prohibition, how cannabis is regulated and taxed will determine whether this multi-billion dollar industry creates good union careers or low wage jobs.
The state plan for how the products are grown, distributed and taxed is coming out on January 1, 2018. At the same time, localities are meeting now to determine how they want to approach the industry; some cities are working out taxation schemes to bolster their budgets, while others are looking to ban manufacturing, sales or both.
Recognizing the opportunity of creating good Teamster jobs in growing and harvesting, manufacturing, performing quality control, warehousing, and distribution, JC7 President Rome Aloise had the idea to partner with Joint Council 42 to start a cannabis division in California. His goals were to help shape the policies that regulate and govern the industry in order to enable the union to make inroads into organizing the workers.
“Tens of thousands of jobs will be created in California as part of this industry, and we want them to be good jobs and Teamster jobs,” said Aloise. “We couldn’t wait until everything was set up and moving to start getting involved. We needed to insinuate ourselves on the ground floor.”
Building Teamster market share in the new cannabis industry was not what Kristin Heidelbach-Teramoto ever thought she’d be doing. For 14 years, she was the Titan Operator at Local 150 in Sacramento and had previously worked in the bio-tech and software industries. In August of 2016, Aloise tasked her with developing the new cannabis division.
“I grew up in a law enforcement family and avoided recreational drugs my whole life,” she says. “So doing this is not anything that I would have ever imagined. But it’s been a fascinating journey.”
Kristin has been working on this issue for about a year, having started even before passage of Prop. 64. Her first task was to learn about the many aspects of the industry, and connect with the key leaders.
“I started attending every cannabis function I could find,” she says, “like the State of Cannabis event held each year in Long Beach.” She got to know and gain the trust of the leaders of the California Cannabis Industry Association and “they would introduce me to their friends. It’s a massive network of people who work together.”
What Kristin learned is that emerging companies face numerous challenges navigating the myriad and sometimes conflicting state and local laws. “But Teamsters can use our political clout to help them get through that. We’re not always successful, but we try. In exchange, we ask that the companies develop a labor peace agreement. This means that when they staff up, if the employees choose to be represented by a union, the companies will accept that choice.”
Kristin travels the state, working with city councils to add labor peace to their local ordinances. While the State of California agreed to include a labor peace agreement for any company with 20 or more employees, in Los Angeles, the rule kicks in at 10 employees. “We’ll have to work out those differences,” she says.
Where labor peace can be a huge boon for organizing, Kristin is also working to develop apprenticeship programs for people working in manufacturing and retail sales to create good career ladders.
Organizing has already started. “We have a lab, a grower with warehouses, and several manufacturers,” Kristin says. “We’ve got a solid base of organized members in the industry and expect many more companies to come on board as we get closer to January.”
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