California unions ask state’s Democrats to shut out major cannabis trade group

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Image depicting labor peace agreements

(This story has been updated with new comments from the executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association.)

The California Cannabis Industry Association might have a serious political problem in Sacramento.

Representatives from three labor unions – the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, two Teamsters locals and the California Labor Federation – sent a letter to state Democrats on Wednesday asking lawmakers to shut the CCIA out of future political negotiations regarding the marijuana industry “for the time being.”

The letter was sparked by a recent white paper – “Tips for Cannabis Business Owners Negotiating Labor Peace Agreements” – that the CCIA distributed among its members.

In their letter, the unions lambasted the CCIA’s white paper as “a piece of anti-union literature.”

In response, CCIA Executive Director Lindsay Robinson wrote in an email to Marijuana Business Daily that the white paper was not intended to be “anti-union.”

Her organization is one of the largest cannabis industry trade groups in the state and one of the few groups to employ a full-time lobbyist working in Sacramento on various MJ issues.

Labor peace agreements are required under state law for any marijuana company with 20 or more employees, and similar requirements are in place in other states, including New York.

Unions such as the UFCW and Teamsters have also been working to make inroads with the cannabis industry nationally for years and, more often than not, have been political allies, not foes.

The CCIA white paper advises cannabis companies that if their employees decide to unionize, the move could lead to “decreased flexibility and increased costs” for businesses.

‘CCIA not legitimate partner’

That set off alarm bells for the three unions.

“Given CCIA’s posturing on how to engage with organized labor, we ask all members of the Democratic caucus to refrain from engaging with the Association for the time being,” the unions wrote.

“Our organizations do not recognize CCIA as a legitimate partner in the cannabis industry.”

The unions also offered to provide a list of employers and other marijuana trade groups that “have shown a willingness to work collaboratively with labor.”

Those other cannabis trade groups include the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, the Cannabis Distribution Association, the Southern California Coalition (SCC), the California Cannabis Couriers Association and the United Cannabis Business Association, said Matt Broad, legislative advocate for the Teamsters Public Affairs Council.

“These are all groups that we communicate frequently with,” he added, “and we talk about how we can achieve common goals together.”

CCIA chief Robinson stressed that the group’s white paper was not meant to put unions in a negative spotlight.

“We retract any statements that may have been misleading,” she said in her statement. “This document does not reflect priorities in our legislative platform, nor our guiding policies.

“Securing jobs with high wages and exemplary working conditions for everyone in the cannabis industry is a top priority for CCIA, and we look forward to working with Labor Unions to achieve these goals.”

Robinson reiterated those points in a letter shared with Democratic lawmakers on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by MJBizDaily.

“The moment CCIA was notified of labor’s concerns, we immediately removed this document from our website,” Robinson wrote.

Several Democratic state lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Political ramifications

It’s unclear how much this situation might hamper CCIA’s ability to get Democratic legislators on board with further cannabis reforms, such as lowering state marijuana tax rates.

But at the least it will likely prove a distraction, if not a major stumbling block, as political wrangling over the future of the marijuana industry in California continues in the halls of the state capitol.

CCIA’s white paper was an “unforced error” on the political side, said Adam Spiker, the executive director of the Southern California Coalition.

He said he believes CCIA will have to focus on damage control to reestablish a solid working rapport with the labor community, which he said has been a key political ally in years past for MJ companies.

“It’s damaging. There’s no doubt about that,” Spiker said. “(CCIA is) going to have a really significant reparations project on their hands. … Labor has been a partner with local and state government much longer than regulated cannabis.”

Spiker noted that unions were among the stakeholders that pushed lawmakers to pass a medical marijuana framework successfully in 2015, which laid the groundwork for recreational legalization in 2016.

He said unions were also a key factor in getting local approval in Los Angeles for Proposition M in 2017, which set the stage for that city’s legal cannabis market.

John Schroyer can be reached at