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Cannabis Workers Are Unionizing in Newly Legalized New Jersey

What this means for the future of the industry across the country.

By
This story originally appeared on Benzinga

Four major cannabis companies are negotiating contracts to unionize their workforce in New Jersey to bring the total to a half dozen multi-state operators, according to the head of UFCW - Local 360.

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Since recreational marijuana sales launched statewide this past April, two of eight major cannabis companies now selling both medical and adult weed have gone fully union.

"Collectively, that means having around 250 new workers under the union umbrella," said Hugh Giordano, director of the UFCW-Local 360, which represents NJ's cannabis workers, as well as other retail, hospital, manufacturing, and public sector employees.

Ascend, Acreage, Columbia Care, and GTI are among those negotiating with UFCW-Local 360.

"We hope to have all contracts, currently being negotiated, signed by Labor Day," Giordano added. "That's our goal. That way, what better way to celebrate Labor Day than with your first union contract. To me, that solidifies what that day represents."

RELATED: Why Cannabis Workers Are Unionizing Across the Country

The importance of unionizing

Earlier this year, Verano Holdings, then under the Zen Leaf banner, signed a collective bargaining agreement for its dispensaries in Lawrence and Elizabeth, among other grow sites throughout the state.

The Garden State Dispensary (GSD), which opened in 2016 to sell medical cannabis, debuted as a union shop at each of its dispensaries and grow sites. Last year, GSD was acquired by AYR Wellness (OTC: AYRWF) and last June AYR's dispensaries - located in Eatontown, Union, and Woodbridge - expanded to sell recreational cannabis.

"The successful and highly profitable launch of adult weed and its expansion were working to the workers' advantage. In its first month, the state's nascent industry generated $24 million in revenue from adult weed sales at a dozen locations," said Giordano.

He added that 16 locations sell both medical and recreational marijuana, "with four more on the horizon awaiting final local and state approvals." In addition, TerrAscend - in Lodi - is waiting for an opening date from its corporate parent.

"What we are doing now can impact the future generation of workers in terms of working conditions, education training, and self-care with health benefits and retirement plans so they get guaranteed vacations and paid time off," said Giordano. "It will set the tone for the future. We are creating workplace conditions that are suitable for working class, living wage careers.

Setting a course for the nation?

"There's no second chance to stand up for themselves," added Giordano. "This is it. This is going to be a long-term movement. New Jersey is going to be a leader nationally in setting consistency, quality, and dependability of product and services."

Giordano said he is going after Curaleaf (OTC: CURLF) and TerrAscend firms "to have all eight of the original MSOs that applied to sell adult weed with the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission carrying the union flag."

"Curaleaf is in discussion with UFCW only as a result of New Jersey state regulations requiring a Labor Peace Agreement." said a Curaleaf statement.

Perri Byrd - a former patient care adviser at Verano Zen Leaf, and in charge to organize cannabis workers at UFCW International - said that it "really solidified for me what the union can do for workers and what workers can do for themselves."

Rob Mejia - adjunct professor at Stockton University's cannabis studies department - said "the main reasons that an employee would want to work in a cannabis business as a union employee are worker protection (from unreasonable demands, unsafe working conditions, getting fired without cause) and generally higher pay and good benefits."

"There are cannabis businesses that do treat their employees well and pay above market rate and in those cases, there is little demand for unions," Mejia concluded.