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Washington Gets Their First Unionized Dispensary

Photo Courtesy of Panacea


Washington Gets Their First Unionized Dispensary

Workers in the cannabis industry are unionizing to get benefits employers won’t provide.

Have a Heart cannabis dispensary is one of Washington’s oldest and largest licensed marijuana retailers. Serving cannabis consumers across five locations, the company employs 134 workers, most of them in retail. And last week, Have a Heart made cannabis history in Washington by becoming the first company to sign a collective bargaining agreement with its employees. But the union contract wasn’t the result of workers’ demands alone. Have a Heart executives also welcomed the union agreement, because it gives them the ability to provide benefits they had been unable to provide to workers due to federal prohibition.

Workers Unions Help Cannabis Companies Deal With Federal Prohibition

On Friday, Have a Heart signed a collective bargaining agreement with United Food and Workers Local 21 chapter. The agreement covers all of Have a Heart’s 134 retail shop workers. As the ink dried on the contract, Have a Heart became Washington’s first marijuana business with unionized retail stores. And CEO Ryan Kunkle is looking forward to the union being able to provide what his company could not.

By now, nearly everyone is familiar with the problematic legal contradictions between state cannabis laws and the federal prohibition on marijuana. But fewer know that Uncle Sam is having it both ways.

State-legal cannabis businesses have to pay federal taxes even though the government in D.C. considers them illicit operations. At the same time, cannabis businesses are unable to deduct many of the expenses businesses that aren’t breaking federal laws can. These deductions include employer-supplied benefits like health insurance and retirement contributions.

Unable to deduct these significant expenses, many cannabis businesses decide not to provide them to their employees at all. And that contributes to a whole host of related consequences. Companies that can’t provide good employee benefits can’t compete for the best candidates, while workers leave because they can’t afford health care out of pocket, contributing to the industry’s high turnover rates.

And that’s where unions come into play. Unions can provide benefits to their members that companies won’t because they can’t deduct them on their tax returns.

Workers of the Cannabis Industry, Unite!

Unions and worker power are on the decline across the United States. Various “right to work” bills and other union-busting legislation have been staples in conservative legislatures and courts. And this June’s SCOTUS ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case was another decisive blow to the power of working-class people in the U.S.

But as the cannabis industry expands amid federal criminalization, there’s an opportunity for workers in it to get organized. There’s no federal law that prevents workers in the marijuana industry from unionizing. And if Washington’s recent example is any indication, workers are likely to face very little resistance from employers.

UFCW 21 President Todd Crosby said the Have a Heart negotiation was one of the fastest the union has ever had. And that was because, according to Crosby, owners were neutral and let the employees do what they wanted. Have a Heart CEO Ryan Kunkel even wants employees at his retail shops in other states to collectively bargain.

Where companies can’t deliver, unions can step up. And that’s a win for workers and the industry as a whole.

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