Rhode Island cannabis retailer sues state over labor clause

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A Rhode Island cannabis retailer filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that its adult-use legalization law unfairly forces stores to enter “oppressive” labor peace agreements with its employees.

Portsmouth’s Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center, which has been operating in the medical marijuana market since 2013, named state regulators and Cannabis Control Commission members in the suit, according to The Boston Globe.

Unions have been rapidly recruiting cannabis workers across the United States and Canada.

But Rhode Island could be the only state to require marijuana retailers to do so in order to be licensed to sell adult-use cannabis.

Passed in May 2022,the Rhode Island Cannabis Act legalizing recreational sales includes a clause stating that licenses are contingent on marijuana retailers signing labor agreements with a “bona fide labor organization.”

Greenleaf’s employees voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 union in 2021 but hadn’t finalized the collective bargaining agreement when the law came into force.

Seth Bock, CEO of Greenleaf, told the Globe the company lost leverage during labor negotiations once the law was passed.

“You either meet their demands and obtain a peace agreement or you go out of business under Rhode Island law,” he said.

Bock would like the requirement to be declared unconstitutional and for its collective bargaining agreement, which includes a $1,000 bonus for employees, to be nullified.

Advocacy group Reclaim Rhode Island lobbied for the requirement along with unions and other organizers.

A Reclaim Rhode Island organizer, Daniel Denvir, told the Globe the lawsuit is “absurd.”

“It seems absurd to me that the owner of a cannabis dispensary benefiting from a highly regulated, limited-supply cannabis license is objecting to a law simply because it ensures that their workers receive good wages, dignity on the job and the protection of the union,” he said.