Power to the (pot) people

Dan Rush explains why more medical-cannabis workers are unionizing


Last October, more and more medical-cannabis workers turned to Dan Rush. They were wary of the federal intervention in California’s medical-cannabis communities, and Rush—national director of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division—offered to help. UFCW has shown an increased interest in unionizing medical-cannabis dispensaries in recent months; they have signed up collectives in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego. SN&R chatted with Rush to see what was smokin'.

Tell us a little bit about UFCW and how it came to be interested in medical cannabis?

UFCW is the result of a merger between many aspects of the retail-clerks union. It includes the grocery, pharmacy, department store, hardware [store], car salesmen, meat cutters, barbers and cosmetologists, wooliers, furriers, wine and distillers … fruit pickers, food processors, and, finally, the textiles-garment workers unions—all rolled into one. The UFCW is now the third-largest union in the world and the largest retail, agriculture, food-processing and textiles-workers union in North America.

In other words, we are the commercial-production-for-human-consumption union of North America. We are most commonly known as the grocery, pharmacy, agriculture, food-processors and meat-cutters union.

So, does UFCW see regulation and taxation of medical cannabis in California’s future?

The UFCW sees full, statewide regulation as the only answer. There is no other 10th Amendment protection for anything less than statewide regulation. Cities and counties have no exemption or right to 10th Amendment protections. Only states have those rights. That’s why the only way to be protected by that right is to have statewide regulation and an agency that enforces the borders of the state to keep our activities out of our neighboring states. Border enforcement is the action that allows states to exercise 10th Amendment protections.

Why should medical-cannabis workers join a union?

A union’s job is to deliver equality and justice to workers who are oppressed and unjustly or disparately impacted. Historically, it has been the bosses that perpetrated injustice and oppression on workers. However, in this industry, it’s the political and legal environment and society that is oppressing and disparately impacting the workers. The UFCW is here to create and maintain an environment of equality and justice for our members and the workers in this industry that are being oppressed and discriminated against by society and the federal government.

So, is this just dispensary workers? Or growers and trimmers and lab techs?

Our responsibility is to workers in dispensing, which includes retail, and to workers in production, which includes workers in greenhouses, nurseries, outdoor farms, indoor cultivators, labeling, medical, laboratory, packaging, food processing and all of the ancillary equipment and supply services. But don’t get me wrong, the UFCW has every intention of helping preserve patients’ rights to cultivate at home and for caregivers to cultivate for them. We really only want to pursue registration and membership for commercialized medical cannabis.

Do any of the bills currently in the Legislature have a chance?

Assembly Bill 2312 in California is our bill. …

We are going to give this everything we have. It is the only chance we have here in California. For now.

What about any of the legalization initiatives in the state?

Well, I think most people in the drug-policy-reform movement and the medical-cannabis industry know that I worked hard on Proposition 19, and that I gave it my all. I also brought many of the mainstream coalition partners into Prop. 19—kicking and screaming, I might add—and we all still enjoy all working together today. I did it because I want to bring $1.4 billion in sales-tax revenue into our beloved state by creating 100,000 UFCW union jobs to California. So my work on Prop. 19 should tell everyone something about me and my personal feelings about legalization.

Now, as far as UFCW’s Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division, I think that we need to get a medical infrastructure straightened out for patients and for my members in the industry. I think we have a lot of work to do in medical cannabis, the laws, rescheduling, etc.

I have done extensive polling all over the nation, and unfortunately, [cannabis legalization] is not going to happen soon—except, perhaps, in Colorado. I am watching Colorado closely.