Pubdate: Thu, 09 Jul 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


Organized Labor Helped Cannabis Evolve From a Movement to a 
Multi-Billion Dollar Industry. Now, Organized Labor Is Working to 
Ensure It Keeps a Piece of the Action.

Cannabis was good to Debby Goldsberry. The time she spent in the late 
1980s and early '90s following the Grateful Dead on tour, passing out 
photocopied fliers that agitated for marijuana legalization, led to a 
high-paying career. After California legalized medical cannabis in 
1996, Goldsberry cofounded one of the state's first major marijuana 
businesses, Berkeley Patients Group.

One of the most successful dispensaries in Northern California, BPG 
grossed more than $15 million in sales in 2009. That year, Goldsberry 
earned $263,299 - less than her fellow cofounders and co-executives 
(both men), but still good money, considering her job's illegal 
origins 20 years earlier on Shakedown Street.

Sometimes the light's all shining on me.

Things fell apart in 2010. With recreational marijuana legalization 
on the state ballot, Goldsberry and her partners disagreed about 
BPG's future. That summer, she was removed from the company's board 
of directors after a no-confidence vote.

One day in the fall, she showed up to work and found someone else 
occupying her desk. She took time off after a doctor advised her that 
work-related stress was getting to be too much. When she returned on 
Dec. 31 of that year, her partners handed her piece of paper: an 
at-will termination form.

Other times I can barely see.

Once the shock cleared, Goldsberry learned something about California 
employment law. "I was an at-will employee, even though I was a 
founder," she says. That meant she could be fired at any time without 
explanation, and without severance pay.

Goldsberry had immense respect within the legalization movement - 
High Times later declared her marijuana "activist of the year" and 
flew her to Amsterdam - but respect doesn't pay the mortgage or the 
grocery bill.

Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime.

Bereft, Goldsberry turned to a new friend who'd appeared on the 
marijuana scene earlier that year: a union organizer with United Food 
and Commercial Workers, which had just become the first labor union 
to organize workers in the American medical cannabis business. UFCW 
found her an employment attorney, who sued for wrongful termination 
(the suit was settled out of court in 2012 for an undisclosed sum). 
The union also found her a new job.

After working on a union effort in San Jose, Goldsberry landed a 
dispensary gig - with a union contract - at Magnolia Wellness, near 
the Port of Oakland. Much smaller than BPG, Magnolia is nonetheless 
described by UFCW's Local 5 as its "flagship" shop. (Its location - 
along one of the main routes for container traffic in and out of the 
port, where a labor dispute earlier this year ground container 
traffic to a halt, slowed the economy, and led to layoffs across the 
West - is a meaningful coincidence.)

Like most activists-turned-entrepreneurs who founded the state's 
first wave of medical marijuana enterprises, Goldsberry had come from 
a cash-only, hustle-and-share economy. For a Deadhead hippie, a 
rigorously enforced union workplace existed in a different world.

"I never worked in a place with organized labor," says Goldsberry, 
who is now a staunch advocate for unions. "I found out the hard way: 
had I been a contract employee, none of this would have ever happened."

Labor helped Goldsberry. Labor is also trying to help the American 
cannabis industry. The UFCW, best known for representing grocery 
store workers at chains such as Safeway, began signing up California 
budtenders, trimmers, joint-rollers, and growers - jobs it prefers to 
call "technicians" and "processors" - in 2010. Unions offered 
cannabis badly needed legitimacy in the eyes of politicians and the 
public at a time when marijuana's economic potential was still dismissed.

Like Goldsberry, most dispensary workers enjoyed pay and benefits far 
above and beyond what they would see at a grocery store. So, in a 
departure from traditional bottom-up organizing, UFCW advocated for 
would-be business owners. Organized labor's imprimatur helped 
convince leery city councils and leaders of neighborhood associations 
that having a dispensary in town wasn't such a bad idea. "You can 
trust us," was the message. "We're with the union."

Today, about 1,000 workers in the California cannabis industry are 
card-carrying members of UFCW, the union estimates. Those workers 
include joint-rollers, chocolate makers, and dispensaries in Los 
Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento. Of UFCW's 1.2 
million members nationwide - a considerable portion of the 14.6 
million union workers in America - 3,000 are counted in its fledgling 
"medical cannabis and hemp division."

But with recreational marijuana legal in four states and a majority 
of Americans in support of outright legalization, there is tremendous 
opportunity to expand. UFCW hopes to represent workers in every one 
of the 23 states so far where some form of medical marijuana is 
legal. The union also is flexing its political muscle, using the 
age-old connections between Democratic politicians and the labor 
movement to lobby for legal marijuana. In the push to legalize 
cannabis outright in Ohio, UFCW is a key player.

Labor is also trying to help itself. At a time when private-sector 
union membership continues to decline in America, the burgeoning, 
labor-intensive cannabis industry represents the best opportunity in 
a generation for UFCW - which has lost 100,000 members since 2000 - 
to build back its membership. And the union is using those political 
connections to ensure it has a piece of the action.

When dispensaries in New York open their doors later this year, 
cannabis patients won't have to look out for the union label - every 
worker at every shop will be union, thanks to a rule written into 
state law at the union's bequest. In California, union lobbyists are 
pushing the state Legislature to include similar language in a bill 
winding its way through Sacramento that would, for the first time, 
regulate the state's enormous marijuana marketplace.

Meanwhile, cannabis has become uncomfortable with labor's presence. 
More and more industry leaders see the union as an opportunistic 
outsider with one chief concern: the union. There are rumors that 
unless UFCW is included in the plans to legalize next year, it will 
work to block legalization entirely. The relationship is so 
uncomfortable that when a union lobbyist working on statewide policy 
paid a visit to a San Francisco dispensary, the shop's executive 
director - who also happens to be a sitting Democratic politician - 
took him aside to say, "Let me tell you why we don't need a union."

After drawing attention from investors on Wall Street and in Silicon 
Valley - and having morphed from a "legalization movement" to a 
"cannabis industry" - many medical marijuana entrepreneurs no longer 
think they need a labor union to make them legitimate. "I support the 
right of workers to organize, but I don't like the kind of backroom 
sweetheart deals I've seen cooked up between some of the unions and 
the employers in the cannabis industry," says Stephen DeAngelo, 
founder and CEO of Harborside Health Center in Oakland.

At Harborside, workers listened to a union pitch - and voted against 
joining, DeAngelo tells SF Weekly. "I like even less the idea that a 
union would try to accomplish legislatively something they couldn't 
get workers to directly approve," he adds. "My CIO-labor-organizer 
grandfather would be rolling over in his grave at the sight of it."

In a time of need, the cannabis industry welcomed the union in. Now, 
the union is here to stay, whether the industry likes it or not.

Cannabis has been good to California. In rural Mendocino County, in 
the heart of the state's marijuana-producing Emerald Triangle, 
per-capita retail spending is 2 percent higher than in any county in 
the North Bay, according to federal Bureau of Economic Analysis 
figures. More cash per person is swirling around on old logging roads 
than on the highways in chic, wine-producing travel destinations like 
Napa and Sonoma.

That is thanks to marijuana. It's also thanks to federal law 
enforcement that, while unable to stop a massive, flagrant and 
ongoing violation of the Controlled Substances Act, has succeeded in 
preventing the violators from banking. Therefore, what is earned is 
often immediately spent, or reinvested in the local economy.

As with any other economy operating partly in the shadows, 
marijuana's true contribution to the state's bottom line is hard to 
accurately gauge. What estimates are out there are astounding. A 2010 
state analysis pegged the worth of California's cannabis harvest at 
$14.1 billion, by far the state's biggest cash crop. Wine, at $2.9 
billion worth of grapes, is supposed to have $61.5 billion worth of 
"economic impact," according to the Wine Institute, a more nebulous 
figure that chambers of commerce like to tout when advocating for pet 
projects. By extension, the economic impact of the state's cannabis 
industry is immense.

An economy of that magnitude needs workers. And cannabis is a 
labor-intensive commodity, with humans required at every stage to 
plant, grow, harvest, process, transport, and sell the product.

Estimating how many people work in marijuana in California is even 
more challenging than guessing at the crop's value. Those cash-rich 
farmers in Mendocino County don't pay payroll taxes when hiring trim 
crews to process the year's crop. Nor do many dispensaries, delivery 
services, bakers, or hash oil producers in urban areas, all of which 
operate without state licenses.

As a result, "we don't have a good tracking mechanism," says Rob 
Eyler, an economics professor at Sonoma State University. "But, 
reaching around in the dark ... it could be as high as 100,000 
people" - or exactly the number of workers who have left UFCW since 
George W. Bush's election. This decent-sized city's worth of workers 
is operating largely off the books. Put another way: The working 
conditions under which the state's chief cash crop is produced are 
almost entirely unregulated. "I don't think there's any doubt," Eyler 
says, "that marijuana is likely the biggest labor black market in California."

In other industries, rampant abuse of workers thrives under such 
conditions. In California's "legitimate" agriculture industry, a 2013 
Center for Investigative Reporting probe found widespread rape and 
other abuses of female workers, most of whom are Spanish-speaking 
immigrants. That expose led Gov. Jerry Brown to sign legislation 
promising new protections.

It appears the marijuana industry does not yet have those problems. 
Despite a well-publicized case of a Humboldt grower shooting and 
killing an undocumented worker the grower had brought to his ranch in 
2010, cannabis appears to be mostly staying true to its feel-good 
hippie roots. And the numerous "trimmigrants" who descend on 
Mendocino, Humboldt, and other rural California counties are happy to 
take the several hundred dollars a day they can earn processing 
farmers' crops under the table before moving on to the next job.

What's more, despite Goldsberry's executive troubles at BPG, workers 
lower on the food chain, at dispensary counters, make about $15 to 
$18 an hour to start, according to an SF Weekly survey of selected 
local shops. Those jobs also include health and retirement benefits. 
As a result, competition for the jobs is akin to admission to 
Harvard; Goldsberry remembers fielding hundreds of applications for a 
single counter spot.

That is one reason why labor's entry into cannabis was not brought on 
by underpaid workers putting in long hours or growers forgetting 
where in the backyard they'd buried the PVC pipe stuffed with $100 
bills. This was about an emerging economy that lacked respect from 
society. That's why labor entered at the top, by way of a 
chain-smoking union organizer who rides a custom Harley-Davidson 
painted with the Superman logo, and knew a golden opportunity when he saw it.

To call Dan Rush a union man is a vast understatement. The Oakland 
native's father and grandfather were Teamsters, his grandmother a 
union retail clerk. A career in the Teamsters was Rush's birthright 
until the 19-year-old with a pro wrestler's physique participated in 
the 1978 strike of Safeway truck drivers.

The demonstrations were already vicious before a tractor-trailer 
truck driven by management struck and killed a 24-year old union 
driver while crossing a picket line. An off-duty, out-of-town cop was 
riding shotgun for security. It got worse when Rush fired a 
.40-caliber slug from a wrist rocket at a car that carried more 
out-of-town cops. The slug put out one cop's eye. Rush pleaded guilty 
to aggravated assault and spent three years behind bars. On his 
release, a condition of his probation was that he could not be a Teamster.

Instead, Rush took a job organizing for the meat-cutters union, a 
career path that led to UFCW. He had enough success to rise to a 
position called "statewide special operations director," in charge of 
identifying potential new members and signing them up.

Rush was spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2009 poring 
over ballot initiatives for the next year, seeing where UFCW could 
help out, when something caught his eye: A marijuana legalization 
initiative had qualified for the ballot. The campaign running it was 
in downtown Oakland, a few doors down from where Rush's grandmother 
would take him shopping as a child, and just a short Harley ride up 
Telegraph Avenue from the family's home near the MacArthur BART station.

Rush knew nothing about cannabis at the time. He did know that 
Oakland's long-moribund downtown was enjoying a revival thanks to the 
collection of dispensaries and marijuana businesses sprouting up on 
Broadway and Telegraph. And anyone or anything that was good for 
Oakland was good for Dan Rush. So he hopped on his Harley and rumbled 
up to the legalization campaign's headquarters in a building on 
Broadway near where his grandmother used to work. It was a Sunday 
morning and the election was almost a year away. He was surprised to 
see a buzzing office full of volunteers and piles of empty pizza boxes.

This was a chance. The legalizers had a cause and they had people. 
What they didn't have was an organization or political connections, 
two things that could help them win badly needed legitimacy, not to 
mention the election the next fall. UFCW had both. The legalization 
campaign, run by the leaders of downtown cannabis college Oaksterdam 
University, was thrilled to have the union.

Rush retells this story while sitting in a cramped office at the back 
of his house on a recent sultry June afternoon, feeds from multiple 
security cameras on a monitor in front him. He's surrounded by 
Superman kitsch, honorary proclamations from politicians, and 
memorabilia - including thank-you certificates - from a certain 
notorious motorcycle club with strong Oakland roots. "That chair 
you're sitting in - that's Sonny Barger's chair," he tells me, 
referring to one of the more notorious founding members of the Hell's 
Angels' Oakland chapter.

For Rush, signing up Oaksterdam's workers was a social justice issue. 
Even though they were paid well and treated well, "cannabis workers 
were absolutely marginalized," he says, "but not by their employers."

At Oaksterdam, Rush met a lesbian couple. They both worked in 
marijuana, and they were planning to get married. But they were 
afraid to go home and confront their families at Christmas - because 
they worked in weed, not because they were gay. Rush met another 
individual, an overweight man who wore unflattering skin-tight lycra 
bicycle wear to and from work. When asked why, the man explained: 
Proving that he literally had nothing to hide was the only way he 
could commute to and from work without being stopped and searched by police.

"And this was in fucking Oakland," Rush says, his voice rising. "If 
that's not a disparaged workforce, I don't know what is. They weren't 
oppressed at work. They were being oppressed by an ignorant society."

It was still a tough sell to union honchos. UFCW gives its locals a 
fair measure of autonomy, but this - a bunch of stoners breaking 
federal law - was something else entirely. Preferring to beg for 
forgiveness than ask permission, Rush told the legalizers that the 
union was in. Later, when pitching the idea to his union superiors, 
Rush keyed in on two points: One, cannabis is a retail product "for 
human consumption and wear," and UFCW represents workers in 
agriculture, textiles, and other similar industries; two, it was an 
expanding industry with great growth potential - and other unions 
were nowhere to be found. UFCW had the field to itself, if it wanted it.

On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend 2010, the union issued a 
press release announcing it had organized workers at Oaksterdam 
University and its affiliated dispensaries and businesses. "Four 
hundred" media outlets around the country ran the story, Rush says. 
With UFCW's help, the legalization measure, now called Prop. 19, 
received backing from the state NAACP as well as drug reform and 
marijuana advocates.

Most mainstream Democrats, however, stayed away. U.S. Sen. Dianne 
Feinstein served as the "No" campaign's chairwoman. Financial 
support, other than the life savings of Oaksterdam founder Richard 
Lee, was in short supply. The final straw was an October surprise 
courtesy of the federal Justice Department, which said it would 
prosecute city officials who allowed legal weed operations to open. 
The initiative won more votes than Meg Whitman did in her bid to 
defeat Jerry Brown for governor, but still lost, barely, with 47.5 
percent of Californians voting in favor.

UFCW was nevertheless committed. The union soon created a "national 
medical cannabis and hemp division," of which Rush was made director. 
He sold dispensary operators on UFCW's political clout, leverage that 
could be used to win them local approval to open. The union also 
worked city halls. When Oakland chose to expand the number of 
permitted dispensaries allowed in town from four to eight, UFCW 
ensured that when the "merit-based" permit applications were 
considered, union membership counted. (Of the four that were granted 
permits, only Magnolia Wellness was - and still is - organized.) A 
similar reward for union membership is in place in Berkeley, which 
will select one of eight applicants for an additional dispensary 
permit later this year.

The union also helped cannabis become more sophisticated. Most 
everybody working in California cannabis policy today has had at 
least a few meetings with UFCW. Or, as one Sacramento-level lobbyist 
told me recently, "Dan Rush fucking made me."

But there were limits to UFCW's clout. When the federal Justice 
Department started threatening dispensary operators and their 
landlords with prison time in fall 2011, the union had no answers. 
Hundreds of dispensaries across the state closed, and union jobs 
vanished along with them. In 2012, federal authorities raided 
Oaksterdam University's campus. Rush and some other union workers 
appeared at rallies denouncing the feds, but shied away from 
endorsing marijuana agitators' main message: that President Barack 
Obama was breaking a campaign promise to leave them alone. The union 
was playing smart politics, and while some members privately shared 
the cannabis industry's outrage, marijuana advocates felt jilted nonetheless.

Politics would annoy the cannabis industry yet again when UFCW sided 
with Los Angeles' political establishment to support a local ballot 
initiative there, Prop. D, that put a cap on how many dispensaries 
could operate in L.A. Under Prop. D, several hundred cannabis clubs 
would have to close. Union honchos preached the wisdom of playing 
ball and cutting deals, but some marijuana hardliners only saw more 
dispensaries shutting down. At the same time, UFCW worked to bring 
the survivors into its fold, organizing 30 of the remaining Los Angeles clubs.

Meanwhile, attention shifted away from California. With help from 
veterans of Prop. 19 as well as support from UFCW, legalization 
initiatives in Colorado and Washington passed in fall 2012. Soon, 
big-name Democrats including California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who 
had endorsed a no vote on Prop. 19, came out in support of cannabis 

By that time, Rush was out of California, working on turning other 
states green. Some industry insiders and lobbyists say he overreached 
and angered superiors by going around them to directly lobby state 
politicians such as former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell 
Steinberg. Union officials say the UFCW intentionally shifted 
resources to other states. "California was such a mess," says Jeff 
Ferro, a top aide to the union's head of organizing, "that the work 
organizing was much more precarious [here] than in other states."

Then and now, California lacked strong statewide marijuana-industry 
regulations, which were all but demanded by federal Justice 
Department officials in a 2013 missive known as the Cole Memo. That 
made California a risky investment, for both capital and the union. 
So, rather than slog along in a ruleless California, UFCW would work 
in other states, such as New York, where it could play a role in 
writing the rules. The union's earlier successes did not go 
unnoticed. As The New Republic observed in 2013, "The UFCW has been 
an unseen force in nearly every big push to pass marijuana-friendly 
laws and ordinances in Western states."

But the union wasn't winning people over with the same ease it had in 
Oakland in 2010. When merchants in Denver opened their doors on New 
Year's Day 2014 to mark the first legal recreational marijuana sales 
in American history, not a single union worker could be found. 
Organizers blame Colorado's independent streak and less 
labor-friendly laws for being left out of the country's biggest 
recreational cannabis economy. By contrast, in the state of 
Washington, where officials reported average daily sales of $1.4 
million per day and tax revenues twice what was expected, UFCW signed 
up its first shop last month.

In San Francisco, the union proved it could be an enemy as well as an 
ally. When a dispensary tried to open next to Mission Organics in 
2011, the same union attorney at SF's lone union shop - the one who 
filed Debby Goldsberry's lawsuit - filed an appeal in opposition. It 
failed and the new shop, now affiliated with Sunset District-bred 
rapper Berner's Cookies brand, opened up. Still, the cannabis 
industry took notice and was disturbed.

Last fall, union honchos also pushed the city's Planning Commission 
to deny a permit for a second dispensary location for SPARC, one of 
the city's leading cannabis shops, which like other clubs is finding 
itself unable to meet the enormous demand for its products. (At the 
time, SPARC's executive director, Robert Jacob, was the mayor of 
Sebastopol in Sonoma County, and had apparently failed to return a 
political favor.) The SPARC permit was denied, no small setback in a 
city where medical cannabis dispensary permits are so valuable that 
existing permit-holders are reportedly entertaining - and rejecting - 
six-figure offers for their permits. As it happens, the only 
dispensary that succeeded in securing a medical cannabis dispensary 
permit despite organized neighborhood opposition was the union-backed 
Mission Organics. Still, the episode led some to loudly question 
UFCW's purpose.

"They haven't really hit their stride in providing benefits to their 
members," says Brendan Hallinan, a San Francisco attorney who 
specializes in cannabis businesses, including one dispensary that 
agreed to sign up with the union, only to have organizers disappear 
until after their permit was won. "They were, I hate to say it, 
disorganized," Hallinan says. "I have yet to hear anybody say that 
they received much benefit from being in the union."

UFCW is far from all-in on marijuana. The union just got around to 
endorsing Oregon's legalization initiative, Measure 91, a mere few 
days before voters approved it last fall. A month later, in his 
farewell message to members, outgoing UFCW Local 5 President Ron Lind 
- --- whose shop was the first to organize cannabis workers ---- only 
mentioned cannabis in passing. UFCW's most recent victory in 
California came last year, when workers at the Oakland location of 
Bhang Chocolates, one of the nation's leading edibles companies, 
signed their union cards. But since then, UFCW has stepped back from 
worker-oriented organizing and zeroed in on changing policy in 
Sacramento. There, the union is working - just as it is in other 
states - to ensure it will have a piece of the cannabis industry, 
especially if there's a legalization measure on the ballot next year.

It is Jim Araby's job to provide that assurance. A goateed former 
grocery store worker from Boston, Araby is the executive director of 
UFCW's Western States Council, an umbrella group responsible for 
pushing pro-union policies in four states including California. In 
addition to backing labor's push for a $15 minimum wage and for 
better pay at the bargain grocery chain El Super, Araby and the UFCW 
are concerned with cannabis.

The union has paid for polls and focus groups to test voters' 
attitudes on legalization for next year (those polls, conveniently, 
found support for a "professionalized workforce" as well as 
recreational cannabis for adults, Araby told the Sacramento Bee). 
Araby also sits on the American Civil Liberties Union task force, 
chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, that is supposed to release 
recommendations for legalization ballot language this summer.

And Araby is involved in the push to pass a bill that would, for the 
first time, regulate California's cannabis industry at the state 
level. He wants to make sure that any regulations passed are friendly 
to labor. "For us," Araby says at his one-man office in an Art Deco 
building in downtown Oakland, "two things need to be in every bill." 
Those things are ensuring that dispensary owners allow union 
organizers into their shops and don't speak ill of labor, and 
instituting a workplace training program similar to the ones in New 
York and Minnesota.

The cannabis bill currently under consideration in the state 
Legislature would create a new Office of Medical Cannabis Regulation 
under the purview of Gov. Jerry Brown. It would require commercial 
cannabis enterprises at every step of the supply chain to acquire 
licenses. It also would create minimum training standards for workers 
at licensed dispensaries and grow sites.

Such an "apprenticeship program" is a rare thing in the private 
sector outside of laborers or building trades, but it's a notion 
that's gaining traction. Both Brown and President Obama have called 
for more apprenticeship programs. "Everyone is pushing it, because it 
works," says Carol Zabin, a labor economist at UC Berkeley's Labor 
Research Center. "Our economy produces a lot of low-wage jobs, and 
this kind of job training" - in which the industry makes a direct 
investment in the quality of its workers - "protects the industry 
from going the really low-wage route."

Just who would administer a cannabis apprenticeship program, however, 
isn't clear. This will be a point of contention for the rest of the 
summer. The union, predictably, wants it to be the union. The 
industry, just as predictably, believes it has a good handle on 
things. "We all agree there needs to be standards for workers," says 
Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry 
Association, a Sacramento-based trade group with whom UFCW shares a 
lobbyist, San Francisco-based Platinum Advisors. "You're dealing with 
a psychoactive substance - you should have some knowledge of what 
you're selling to people.

"But there should be a choice" of who provides the training, Bradley 
adds. "We're opposed to mandatory provisions here."

It's unclear how hard UFCW will push for its agenda. The situation is 
precarious: This is the fourth year in a row that the Legislature has 
considered a regulatory bill for the marijuana industry, and at no 
time has the Legislature been closer to passing one. The bill sailed 
out of the Assembly with Republican support, but it needs to clear a 
few hurdles in the Senate before it reaches Brown's desk. To have the 
union pull out and oppose the bill would be stunning, but not unthinkable.

Meanwhile, UFCW is unapologetic about using the Legislature to 
achieve its ends. "Workers need to have a voice in what goes on in 
their workplace," Araby says. "If that has to be guaranteed through 
legislation, so be it."

Marijuana's speedy shift from a fringe cause celebre to the 
billion-dollar Green Rush it is today could have been predicted. 
After all, weed was the world's most popular illicit drug; demand has 
never been an issue. Yet the quick shift surprised the union, which 
now has a new breed of cannabis entrepreneur to try and deal with. 
Gone are the activists. Now there are investors.

"In a few short years, we went from guys in jeans and tie-dye, to 
guys in bad suits, to guys in very expensive Canali suits," UFCW aide 
Ferro says.

The newcomers also have new values. Today's cannabis industry has a 
very strong libertarian streak that's more in line with Silicon 
Valley's anarcho-capitalism than with true-blue Democratic populism.

At the end of June, the National Cannabis Business Association held 
its annual conference in Denver, where it threw a $2,700-per-person 
fundraiser for a presidential candidate: Kentucky Republican Sen. 
Rand Paul. If this is where weed is going - libertarian and 
investor-fetishizing, just like tech - then that is bad news for workers.

Some cannabis startups have the same worker problems as some of 
Silicon Valley's highest-valued companies. The drivers who work for 
Eaze, a company that promises to deliver marijuana ordered from a 
smartphone in as little as 10 minutes, are not employees but 
independent contractors. Fittingly, Eaze calls itself the "Uber of 
marijuana." Just like Uber drivers are on their own if there's an 
accident, Eaze drivers assume all the risk involved in driving around 
the city with 8 ounces of cannabis packaged for sale, something done 
at their peril even in San Francisco. Last year, an independent 
delivery driver was pulled over and charged with three felonies by 
District Attorney George Gascon.

These issues show how far cannabis has come to being a legitimate 
industry. Like other industries, marijuana is now dominated by 
capital and the cult of entrepreneurship. In a way, it shows how the 
union's early efforts - all aimed at getting politicians and the 
public to drop Reefer Madness rhetoric and take notice - have borne 
fruit. "At first we went top down. Now, we're fighting the top," says 
Rush, who says he doesn't feel betrayed by union-doubting industry 
figures like Harborside's DeAngelo, to whom Rush introduced pols like 
Newsom. "This is the natural course of every industry."

Cannabis's independence is also not an entirely bad thing for the 
worker. Unlike in other industries, the path from bottom-rung 
employee to cannabis business owner can be very short. Skills learned 
at a dispensary counter or in a grow room can be easily ported to 
one's own enterprise.

At the same time, a skilled workforce with standardized training will 
be valuable to capital as well. One entrepreneur I spoke to, Ata 
Gonzalez of G Farma Labs - a company that produces pre-rolls, 
chocolates, and hash oil - was an Oaksterdam University student at 
around the time Rush organized the workers there. Now, Gonzalez is 
planning to open a 90,000-square-foot production facility that could 
employ 75 people. When I ask him who will work there and if he's been 
talking to the union, he responds quickly: "Do you have their number?"

Cannabis still presents labor's best chance in memory to ensure a 
developing industry that appears poised to be worker-friendly. "It's 
our future," Rush says, simply.

The industry's new libertarian, "we'll handle this ourselves" tone is 
an attitude shift that's also a sign of cannabis's maturation from 
movement to huge commercial enterprise. But as the balance of power 
between labor and capital is being determined, it's being done in an 
old-school way: by political connections and in back rooms, worlds 
still fairly foreign to marijuana. "Something we really don't have 
access to is going to make or break our ability to move forward," one 
cannabis advocate told me on condition of anonymity. "That's really 
fucking annoying."

In earlier years, when politicians' doors were closed, the cannabis 
movement welcomed the union. Now, says Araby, "It's 'we don't need 
outsiders to tell us how to run our business.' They sound like any 
other corporate person."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom