Justice

This Meme Nails What People Don't Get About Working in the Marijuana Industry

Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear about record-high marijuana sales in legal states. However, in some cases those profits have come at the expense of the people who grow, trim, and sell cannabis, respecting workers' rights continuing to be a work in progress when it comes to the weed industry.

weed-and-money

The most common complaints from cannabis workers concern fair pay, job security, benefits, discrimination, and harassment. Because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, there are few means to legal recourse available to cannabis employees who are mistreated because no legalization laws have included workplace protections for those in the industry. 

"Employment rights are pretty much non-existent in any of the legal states," Stefan Borst-Censullo, an attorney and cannabis lobbyist based in Long Beach, California, told ATTN:. "I can't think of one good piece of legislation or one good development that gives good workplace protections—even for users, much less the actual people involved in the industry, who have no advocates outside of the union. 

In an effort to secure workplace protections, some cannabis workers are turning to labor unions, which have served as policy advocates for the industry at the local and state level.

union

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 770, which represents retail workers in Los Angeles County, has been organized on behalf of cannabis workers since 2011. The union endorsed Prop 64, the state's recreational marijuana initiative that passed in November 2016, after winning workplace protections for its members, for example.

"If your job is dispensing medical cannabis, your job is not that different from a pharmacy tech," Rigo Valdez, the director of organizing at Local 770, told LA Weekly.

Unions have helped achieve raises and paid time off for workers in the marijuana industry. That's helped resolve one issue that has been featured in reports, social media posts, and memes like this one:

meme

While it's true that the legal cannabis industry is subjected to fees and taxes that are disproportionately high compared to other industries, there are many anecdotal accounts of workers being underpaid—or not paid at all—when businesses go south.

Sarah Jones*, a data analyst at a cannabis cultivation company in Colorado, told ATTN: she's regularly encountered sexism in the legal market. (*To protect their identity, we are using a pseudonym).

woman-smoking-marijuana-joint

At her first cannabis job analyzing data, Jones was consistently passed over for positions that were given to men with less experience, she said. And when she reported being sexually harassed to her manager, the offender was not reprimanded; instead, the company reassigned her to a role where she wouldn't have to interact with him. 

Though Jones has since found a job in the industry that she finds more fulfilling, wages are still a problem. Even with a master's degree in a relevant field, she earns about $15 per hour—about $12 less than the median wage of a data analyst.

"When I left school and I went to work in the industry, I figured that I could get a pretty good pay because everyone was like, 'Oh, you can earn six-figures working in the cannabis industry,'" Jones said. "Then you start realizing that really all of them start at $12 an hour no matter what you do," and there are few opportunities for advancement. 

Worker protections are far and few between in the marijuana industry, which operates in an unpredictable and tumultuous legal gray area.officer-with-bag-of-marijuana

That gray area has both silenced workers who feel their rights have been violated and disempowered employers who feel pressured to keep bad employees out of fear of retaliation, Borst-Censullo said. 

Compliant cannabis businesses are "still like everybody else operating in the gray market," he said. "When [employers] actually do have to fire an employee for stealing or for sexual harassment or for any undeniably legitimate reasons, what does that employee do? Go and rat them out to the cops the second they get fired." 

But as more cannabis workers seek out union representation, the industry does seem to be maturing. 

marijuana

In recent years, there have been efforts at the state and local level to bolster workplace protections for cannabis employees—and some businesses have taken it upon themselves to serve as models for the industry, enacting policies and offering employment benefits that aren't legally required. In spite of that progress, however, working in today's cannabis market remains a precarious venture.