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California Teamsters Oppose Marijuana Initiative
Jun 13, 2016

While it may sound a bit strange for the nation’s leading labor union to take a stand against any industry that promises to create thousands of new jobs and generate millions of dollars in new revenue, the California Teamsters recently said that the union does not support a ballot initiative aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana because it would cut its members out of the loop.

The Teamsters union, an organization looking out for the interests of truckers and warehouse workers, has donated a significant amount of money to an anti-drug campaign that is trying to prevent marijuana from being legalized in California this November. A recent report from the Intercept shows the Teamsters recently dropped $25,000 into a fund supporting the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies—the same lobbying effort being financed by law enforcement and prison groups all across the state. 

However, unlike other groups hoping to sabotage Sean Parker’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), the union says it is not opposed to the concept of legalizing marijuana in a manner that allows adults to purchase weed in a way similar to beer; but it is “philosophically” against the proposal because it does not provide an opportunity for its members to handle the transportation and distribution of pot products.

“We favor a highly regulated and tiered model of distribution, similar to the way alcohol is regulated, where there’s an independent distributor that doesn’t grow or sell marijuana,” California Teamsters lobbyist Barry Broad told BuzzFeed News. “We could be supportive of an initiative if the regulatory structure was one that we thought appropriate.” 

Although marijuana reformers often suggest that weed should be regulated in a fashion that mimics the alcohol trade, the notion of creating an industry equal to booze has become somewhat shallow with respect to distribution. When it comes to getting beer on the shelves, there is a three-tier system in place that forces the use of an independent distributor to get the product from the manufacturer to the retail outlet. According to the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, the American beer distribution system was put into place over 70 years ago to provide “a level playing field” in the industry by preventing some of the same shenanigans that are often credited for causing prohibition in the first place. 

Unfortunately, AUMA does not come with a provision that would employ an independent distributor to serve as a middleman for cannabis growers and retail dispensaries. The language of the initiative technically goes against the grain of the labor union by allowing growers to distribute their own products. This, of course, prevents Teamster members from reaping any of the financial benefits that are destined to emerge if California voters put their seal of approval on the initiative later this year.

Yet not all labor unions feel threatened by AUMA.

Over the past few years, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents members employed by grocery stores and packaging plants, began getting involved with the California cannabis industry. According to a report from SF Weekly, the union now has more than 1,000 card-carrying members in California who work in weed—a number that is expected to skyrocket once the state embraces a fully legal market.


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