When It Comes To The Business of Weed Distribution, Unions Want In

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Now that Prop 64 has passed and recreational marijuana is a thing for California, lawmakers have begun the process of establishing a singular regulatory system that will help ensure safe products, and hopefully prevent monopolies – keeping the new cannabis marketplace fair for everyone involved.

According to this recent article, labor Unions are scrambling to be a part of this newly legal industry, as policymakers work to architect bills that will outline who will be allowed to move marijuana from farms and manufacturers to market. This is where the Teamsters are involved.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, who helped craft the legislation for medical marijuana, points out that, “It’s a growing industry that has come out of the shadows and into the light…There are a lot more players who are interested in talking to us than when we started.”

Current laws require an independent third party to act as a middleman and distribute the product from the growers and manufacturers to retail outlets, much like the alcohol industry. Distributors would also act as a tax collector and transport marijuana products to labs for testing, which lawmakers favor. Distributors like this approach because it is like the system that governs the alcohol industry and as such gives them a mandatory cut. This is the system that the Teamsters, as well as the California Growers Association, supports.

Barry Broad, a lobbyist for the Teamsters says this model is “…to prevent diversion and market concentration with one company dominating everything and preventing fair competition.”

On the opposite side of the debate are the United Food and Commercial Workers and the California Cannabis Industry Association, who support the way distribution of marijuana is handled under Prop. 64, which allows growers and manufacturers to distribute their own wares; with some exceptions.

The executive director of UFCW Western States Council, James Araby, states; “Right now the Teamsters have a different vision for this industry than UFCW, in terms of how it’s structured… We feel the voters have spoken under 64, which did not mandate a neutral third-party distributor.”

Kenny Morrison, who heads the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association and owns VCC Brands, a Los Angeles company that makes and sells edible products, says that without a regulatory system in place, he’s allowed to distribute his own products – and this makes him leery of the Teamsters involvement.

In the SacBee article he points out that ‘He invested in the trucks, equipment, and warehouses necessary to store and move his goods. If he’s forced to hire an independent distributor, he says, he’ll end up having to teach them everything he’s learned and pay them to do it. He believes his drivers are far better stewards of his brand than a third-party distribution company.’

“I don’t want to be reduced to one page in someone else’s brochure, not when they haven’t stood up for cannabis the way I have,” Morrison said. “The Teamsters only got into the mix in the eleventh hour because they wanted a cut of the industry for themselves.”

The tension between different Unions is only the beginning. Lobbyists expect arguments about whether businesses should have to obtain licenses from both state and local governments, and whether regulators can bar someone from obtaining a license if they’ve had a prior drug conviction, among other things.