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