Pubdate: Mon, 03 Jun 2013
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Erica E. Phillips


LOS ANGELES - A union of medical-marijuana workers in this city is 
betting on a smaller, but healthier, pot-dispensary business.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 backed Proposition 
D, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Ordinance, which 
passed with 63% of the vote in citywide balloting last month. That 
measure would ban all medical-marijuana businesses except for about 
135 more-established shops, several of which employ UFCW-organized workers.

More than 600 medical-marijuana workers in Los Angeles have joined 
the UFCW since it organized its first cannabis members locally last 
year. The union believes Prop D will secure those workers' jobs, 
which provide relatively good wages and health benefits, by 
effectively weeding out hundreds of newer storefronts that have 
sprouted up in recent years.

Backers of the measure say that if it hadn't passed, the city likely 
would have banned the dispensaries altogether-a move that was 
recently declared legal by the state Supreme Court when one pot shop 
in Riverside, about 60 miles to the east, challenged that city's ban.

The UFCW also backed eventual winner Eric Garcetti over Wendy Greuel 
in the May 21 mayoral race, one of the only unions to do so. Mr. 
Garcetti had supported Prop D and as a city councilman helped to pass 
legislation favored by the 30,000-member local's retail members.

While marijuana is illegal in most states and under federal law, 18 
states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized it for 
medical use or for possession of small quantities. Californians voted 
to legalize marijuana for medicinal use in 1996, becoming the first 
state to do so.

Nationally, the UFCW has added thousands of members to its rolls in 
the past two years in the hemp and medical-cannabis industries. The 
union said membership is growing rapidly among locals in California, 
Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Maryland. The union also is working 
to organize in Maine, Connecticut, Nevada, New Mexico, Massachusetts 
and Arizona.

Last summer in Los Angeles, amid frustration with an escalating 
number of pot shops, the City Council enacted a ban on all 
dispensaries. But it was overturned quickly after a public outcry, 
led largely by the UFCW cannabis workers union. Several City Council 
members turned to drafting Prop D, which is slated to take effect 
this month and would allow shops operating since before September 
2007 to remain open, as long as they had registered with the city, 
had operated continuously since then and were abiding by all rules.

Many officials say the ordinance maintains access for chronically ill 
patients while cutting down on shops they believe were contributing 
to neighborhood nuisance and crime. Rigo Valdez, Local 770's director 
of organizing, said, "In this instance, businesses, employees and 
consumers had the same goal in mind, which is preserving safe access, 
because preserving safe access also preserves good jobs, and also 
preserves the businesses."

Mr. Valdez said the first group of dispensary workers to organize 
here focused on those shops that "we felt had a standard." Mr. Valdez 
said cashiers, delivery workers and others in unionized dispensaries 
make at least roughly $12 an hour, have health benefits and the 
assurance of a safe workplace, such as a security guard at the door.

David Welch, a lawyer who represents 86 post-2007 dispensaries that 
supported a competing measure that would have allowed more shops to 
stay open, said the new ordinance created an unfair marketplace.

"Our group represents more of a free-market approach to medical 
marijuana," Mr. Welch said. He added that the ordinance could harm 
thousands of industry workers and said his clients intend to 
challenge the constitutionality of the measure once it takes effect.

The Los Angeles local has the backing of the Greater Los Angeles 
Collective Alliance, a group of marijuana businesses, because it says 
the union bolsters the industry's advocacy efforts.

Lowell Turner, a professor at Cornell University's School of 
Industrial and Labor Relations, said it is "perfectly rational" for 
the union to choose to represent a select number of businesses. 
Drawing an analogy to the construction industry, Mr. Turner said, "If 
you let every Tom, Dick or Harry build whatever they want with day 
laborers and no building codes, that's going to kill unions, kill 
good jobs and kill upstanding firms that are willing to work within the law."

In recent years, Los Angeles officials have struggled with rapid 
proliferation of the shops, with estimates ranging from 600 to more 
than 1,000 operating. The number of shops is hard to quantify because 
many aren't registered with the city. Many residents complain the 
shops attract loitering and criminal activity, promote marijuana use 
among children and recreational users and worsen traffic.

Now, said City Councilman Paul Koretz, a strong supporter of the 
ordinance, the city has to address the task of shutting down the 
hundreds of shops that weren't exempted by the new law, noting, 
"That's a big step."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom