Oakland Marijuana Workers Go Union

Story by Eric K. Send activist links and information to Eric.

In a move that has tremendous implications for the cannabis movement in California, about 100 medical cannabis workers in Oakland have voted to join United Food Commercial Workers Local 5, one of the largest labor unions in the state.

This marks the first time that a major labor union has accepted marijuana industry workers into its ranks.

The San Jose based UFC Local 5 currently represents over 26,000 workers in the retail, wholesale, agricultural and manufacturing industries. Many of their new members hail from Oaksterdam University, a well-respected marijuana trade school that grooms future industry workers for pot careers. Other new members come from many familiar Oakland 420 spots: the Patient ID Center, the Blue Sky Coffee Shop, the Bulldog Café, the Oaksterdam Gift Shop and AMCD Inc.

Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University and the driving force behind November’s Tax Cannabis 2010 campaign, told the New York Times that the move was an important milestone in the battle to bring marijuana more into the mainstream.

“It’s one more step towards ending federal restrictions,” Lee told the Times.

The unionization of Oakland’s pot community has received a wealth of positive attention from the mainstream media. Since the news broke, dozens of the media’s biggest names have done stories about the union, most of them overwhelmingly positive. And in an encouraging sign that the mainstream media is beginning to take cannabis coverage more seriously, almost all of the leads have been hard-news style. (In fact, the only cannabis pun that I found was made by the New York Times’ lead sentence… “Jimmy Hoffa would be stoked.”)

The cannabis movement and the labor movement are both steeped in a long tradition of fighting for civil rights, and it’s encouraging to think about what can happen when the two combine forces. Don’t let the powers that be divide and conquer us!

Interested in Making a Difference?

•If you’re a medical marijuana industry worker or employer, consider starting a union in your workplace. Visit the UFC website at: www.ufcw5.org, or visit Union Local 13 at: www.unionlocal13.org, or try some of the other labor unions in your area.

•Not in the pot business, but a cannabis-using union member in another industry? Become active at your local union meetings. Become more vocal about setting new drug policies in your union contract (such as drug testing, medical cannabis exemptions, etc.) and ask that the union support your right to be a patient and an employee.

•Read some articles to become more familiar with the story, then choose one or two newspapers and send a letter to the editor about what you just read. Keep letters short and to the point (word limits are usually 250 words or less), and mention the article by name. For a great guide to dealing with the media and writing letters to the editor, visit Americans for Safe Access (ASA)

Keep cannabis in the news… force the “mainstream” media to deal with the issue!

Sample Letter:

To [name of newspaper]:

I am writing to comment on one of your recent articles, “[Title of Article]”, In the article, your readers learned about the recent unionization of Oakland’s medical marijuana workers. (In May, over 100 medical marijuana workers throughout Oakland voted to join United Food Commercial Workers Local 5.)

Medical cannabis is a burgeoning industry, and most of the industry’s workers are compassionate and hard working people, intent on becoming productive and respected members of society. Their unionization helps to give mainstream legitimacy to an industry that has been forced into the shadows for too long. The cannabis movement and the labor movement are both steeped in a long tradition of fighting for civil rights, and it’s encouraging to think about what can happen when the two combine forces.

It will be interesting to see how this new legitimacy and solidarity will affect Tax Cannabis 2010, November’s upcoming legalization ballot initiative. I, for one, will be hoping that California voters will finally seize this exciting opportunity, and end the unjust prohibition of responsible marijuana use in our great state.

Thank you for your time,

[Your Name]

Links and contact information:
The New York Times
Letters to the Editor

The Oakland Tribune
Letter to the Editor

The Los Angeles Times
Letters to the Editor



  1. Anonymous on

    Whether it’s a completely free market with no commercial regulation or a legitimate commercial market with unions, I still think the latter is better. You have a few good points though, especially about the mass commercialization of a product. But I think we’d be likely to see an EXTREMELY vast legal market with cannabis, just as we do with alcohol. On one hand, you have a company like Budweiser that contributes a more affordable abundant product (albeit not the best quality). Then you have microbreweries all over the place which make up very small percentages of the beer market, usually less than 1%. And yet these microbreweries still thrive, because there is still a significant portion of the population that prefers quality over quantity. Growing your own hops and brewing your own beer is legal in the U.S. and true connoisseurs will always embrace a more quality and refined product. Such is the same with organic fruit or grass-fed meat. The majority either can’t afford it or just doesn’t care, but people like you and I might. What I’m saying is there will always be a small market for quality products, but the majority still needs to be protected to some extent. I’ve always had mixed feelings about unions but I really think this is a step in the right direction.

  2. Anonymous on

    COMMERCIAL weed in the black market is meant for sales, bag appeal and rip off artists. It is NOt dried, trimmed, leached or matured and ripened enough. THis is something that commercial weed is!!!! Bland shit thats not up to its potential. Well a union might be able to grow the shit better but they’re still going to use the high yielding more basic strains to accomidate everyone. SHUT UP AND TAKE THIS BLAND SHIT TO KEEP YOU HAPPY CANCER PATIENT! Too bad you’ll be missing out on the real primo shit. BUt hey, if you don’t want to get wrecked while you smoke then its just a matter of preference. It needs to be commented that if the unions grow a large amount and tries to keep ‘in business’, they’ll be thinking just like the drug dealers – CASH CROP! An article noticed called “On the Road to Blandness” …the more and more weed gets crossbred to each other the less variety they will have with a distinct difference and specific effects. THEY WANT TO TRY AND PUT IT ALL In ONE STRAIN. How many flavors will they use to keep them self in business? A few, mostly high yielding CASH crops!!! Now compare the huge strawberries from California… they look great ((almost look plastic for a TV “”Commercial””” like McDonalds garbage food!)), they aren’t too red, but there ain’t no flavor, almost NONE, empty plant matter with a little tease of flavor but 5 times bigger than a delicious berry. TRY Ontario strawberries, same as raspberries from Ontario compared to Cali, the homegrown & original types will always be better quality, dark red, intense flavor and softer texture. A Cali strawberry feels like a god damn apple biting into it! Same with oranges, almost any fruit and vegatable… ALL COMMERCIAL SHIT LOOKS BIG, BUT TASTES LIKE SHIT, OR NOTHING, too crunchy and if you have never noticed the difference between these factors here thaen you’re already missing out!…..
    Oh, and the unions best interest is to get as many advantages as possible. TO MAKE MONEY AND NOT GET SCREWED FOR ANYTHING. Well, the union better cut the price in half to sell big bland empty flavored chunks that are really something that is not brought to the medical users attention in truth. The patients will be told this is the strain for you, but there is a better one for sure out there that the union and black market dealers don’t give a F about. GENOCIDE OF CANNABIS… its still another control factor.
    ANOTHER REASON WHY THE FLAVORS AND QUALITY CANNOT BE IGNORED IS THAT “Aroma Therapy” is an example of why it is necessary to also use the lower yielding exotic strains as well… but a union… yeah right, good luck!!!!! IT NEEDS TO BE LIKE HOLLAND HERE IN N.A.

  3. Paddy on

    Unions are not scams, they are a way for workers to protect their interests and fight back against exploitation (which happens, frequently. It takes an incredible amount of naivete to think that those who are out to make money will not put themselves before those who do their labour for them — but this is a more general point and is not cannabis-specific). Unions are not there for the ‘government’, quite the contrary, they’re there for the interest of _workers_. It’s unfortunate that your political stance is so affected by the typical North American anti-union attitude that you can’t see this step as a massive step in the right direction.

    This also isn’t about anyone ‘taking control’ of cannabis, I have no idea where you’re getting that from, but you’re certainly not pulling it from anywhere sensible; the production of cannabis is and ALWAYS HAS BEEN a COMMERCIAL activity, this has always been the case and always will be. It’s just that thus far, in most places, it has operated in the black market (which I suppose you could say is a perfect model of the ‘free market’ and exposes it’s flaws perfectly) in which no regulation takes place and exploitation both of the consumer (low quality product, heinously inflated prices, dangerous adulterants) and the worker (sub-minimum wage immigrant labour, dangerous working conditions etc) are rife — albeit this is a different issue, I digress, I understand we’re talking about med-pot, though my point still stands for the vast majority of cannabis production and consumption.

    Unionisation of cannabis workers is hugely progressive, now we’re seeing cannabis being perceived by the masses as a legitimate commercial activity just like any other. It’s a shame you’re unable to appreciate that.

  4. ray christl THC Ministry machine on

    Your final conclusion that NO ENTITY will control CANNABIS?I agree with you on this thesis,yet your other ideas seemed less developed.Richard Lee uses his NAME.Canada hides behind MARC EMERY the CELEBRITY.Chickenshit greedy fuckers you smug anonymous canadians,and the BUSH-DEA feed on fear addled anonymity.Get a secret vote as your only chance against the HARPER style of ameriKKKa power trip.Bush people all still ruling the WH.Here is a man (RICH LEE & assoc)with a plan to get Cannabis legal in the most progressive state,and you call getting a million new votes *FRAUD or FILTHY LUCRE*,but you ‘ve never heard of a social contract and modern body politic???Go back in the secret grow closet great anonymous blow hards.You might not be canada fodder(possible USA person..etc..),and unions aren’t perfect institutions.Negative hyperbole isn’t helpful!!

  5. Anonymous on

    Unions are meant to give special treatment to employees etc. part of the specific group…. now…. this means that the cannabis community will be considered a business, which means… they will hold off on your medical supply for their profit, if they don’t get a raise they will cut-off med users just to get money… WRONG!!!!! This is another form of a Government type of control, maybe not a government agency, but close enough. There will never be anyone or group that OWN cannabis!!!! This should not be what is going to try to control this plant!! A business trade that can put your life at risk… because thats all unions have been proven to do… HOLD OUT ON PEOPLE FOR MORE MONEY. A union is a SCAM!!!!!! All greedy goofs who take advantage of it.!! UNIONS Are goofs to people who aren’t in this zone!