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In Massachusetts, Cannabis Cultivation Workers Can Unionize

January 5, 2021 11:15 am ET
In Massachusetts, Cannabis Cultivation Workers Can Unionize

The promise of a developing cannabis industry is one of the strongest points in favor of cannabis legalization, both at the state and federal level. It turns out that the cannabis industry could be wonderful for the economy, especially during times such as these when the economy is struggling. Not only would an expanded cannabis industry create jobs, but it would also funnel more money into states who choose to legalize. And because cannabis is often taxed at a high rate, the revenue can be used by the government to focus on funding needs that had previously gone unfulfilled. So the cannabis industry is a great thing for the government, and for the populations of places where cannabis has been legalized. But on the flip side of that, it’s important to look at how we treat cannabis workers in order to ensure that this is an industry people will want to go into. Let’s explore how Massachusetts made it easier for cannabis industry employees to unionize. 

Current Treatment of Cannabis Businesses and Workers

Because the industry is so new, it’s difficult to look at broad trends. But there are a few data points that we can isolate that are highly telling. While retail cannabis employees typically have good experiences, cultivation workers such as trimmers might experience something completely different. Since much of it is seasonal labor and working conditions are not strictly regulated, it gives rise to opportunities for taking advantage and abuse. There are plenty of cautionary tales that come through in a simple Google search about these situations. 

Cannabis businesses don’t have any more protection either. While taxes on cannabis are a huge boon for states where cannabis is legal, business owners are feeling the taxation pinch. The fact that cannabis is illegal at the federal level means that there are several deductions cannabis business owners are unable to take advantage of. However, these businesses are still expected to pay federal income taxes. Even worse, since most cannabis businesses are unbanked, they must jump through additional hoops with the IRS by paying their taxes in large amounts of cash. It’s a difficult double standard that makes the establishment and maintenance of a cannabis business more difficult than it needs to be for all parties involved.

You can also see this double standard showing up in the way the federal government’s COVID-19 relief plans have overlooked cannabis businesses. The government is withholding such protections as allowing businesses to declare bankruptcy. And, again, since working with banks at all isn’t an option for the majority of cannabis businesses—they must conduct transactions in cash, which many people don’t carry at all, and many who do are reluctant to pass during a pandemic.

That said, things are trending in a positive direction. Federal loans have recently become available for certain parts of the industry. And now, the federal government has ruled that workers at cannabis cultivation sites in Massachusetts are considered agricultural laborers and are permitted to unionize under state law rather than federal law.

The Benefits of Unionization Under State Law

This is good news for cannabis cultivation workers in Massachusetts because unionization rules vary from place to place and are also different at the state level versus at the federal level. While many states deny unionization rights to agricultural workers, the state of Massachusetts covers farmworkers. The new ruling indicates that cannabis growers are to be treated the same, in this regard, as other farmworkers. 

If workers are permitted to unionize, they will have some measure of power over their employment situations. To form a union in Massachusetts, workers would have to organize and sign authorization cards, which often happens without the knowledge or involvement of the employer. Under federal law, for a union to form, a different process is followed.

Making it easier for cannabis workers to unionize is one great way to help the industry grow legs, and it’s certainly possible that other states will follow Massachusetts’ lead in this. The easier it is to have a happy and productive career in cannabis, the more people will flock to the industry, and the more stable it will become. And successful cannabis industry in one state will encourage the next to legalize until, at last, every state has seen the benefits of cannabis.

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