As legal adult-use cannabis continues to spread across the country, so does a movement to unionize cannabis workers. The need for dispensary and cultivation workers has rapidly increased, along with the demand for higher wages, improved benefits, diversity and inclusion efforts, and more.
To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use marijuana. Bills to legalize adult use marijuana are pending in several other states. According to Forbes, cannabis sales in the United States are estimated to reach $57 billion by 2030. The industry shows no signs of slowing down. Labor unions have taken notice and have seemingly set their sights on the cannabis workforce.
The efforts of labor unions have been buoyed by labor peace agreement (LPA) laws. While LPA laws vary by state, they generally require cannabis companies to take a hands-off approach to union organizing efforts as a condition of doing business in the state. This means the company cannot interfere with organizing efforts. However, unions typically also agree via the LPAs not to interfere with the operations of the business. Alternatively, some LPA laws offer preferential status in licensing applications for companies that enter into LPAs.
California, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia all have varying degrees of requirements with respect to LPAs in their states. Pennsylvania and Illinois do not require LPAs, but the states offer certain advantages to companies who enter into LPAs. Several other states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Minnesota, are contemplating enacting their own LPA requirements.
The apparent enthusiasm of organizing efforts largely paid off for unions in 2022. According to Bloomberg Law’s NLRB Election Statistics report, unions prevailed in 76% of overall elections in 2022, one of the highest success rates on record. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has dubbed itself “the Cannabis Workers’ Union” representing more than 10,000 cannabis members, won 70% of representation elections in 2022. They are not the only ones. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has unionized some cultivation workforces, won 66% of representation elections in 2022.
While there has been some litigation surrounding LPAs and organizing efforts, to date, most cannabis companies do not appear to be challenging these requirements. This has the strategic benefit of allowing cannabis businesses to get licenses and begin operations, rather than engage in what could be a prolonged legal battle. However, as unions expand and tighten their grasp on cannabis workforces, industry groups may start to fight back.