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Workers at a dozen L.A. pot shops join labor union

March 22, 2012 |  1:09 pm

A Los Angeles labor union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, has added employees at nearly a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries to its ranks
A Los Angeles labor union representing grocery workers, healthcare providers and pharmacists has added employees from a new sector to its ranks.

The local United Food and Commercial Workers union has organized workers at nearly a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries across the city, union president Rick Icaza said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference, Icaza said the union's support will help stabilize and lend legitimacy to an industry that he portrayed as often ostracized. And he vowed to leverage the "full force" of his union's membership to help keep dispensaries open.

The fate of the city's medical marijuana industry is currently in question.

In January, City Atty. Carmen Trutanich called on the City Council to implement a ban on dispensaries that would forbid businesses from selling the drug, but still allow patients who are seriously ill and their caregivers to cultivate it. He advised city officials to revoke the current ordinance, which calls for a lottery to choose which dispensaries to allow, because of a recent court decision that he said limits what municipalities can do to control dispensaries.

The full council has not yet considered a ban, which has been championed by Councilman Jose Huizar, whose Eastside district is home to many pot shops.

Huizar has close ties to labor unions. He was endorsed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor during his reelection campaign last year, and Icaza said the United Food and Commercial Workers union has also worked on his behalf.

Icaza said the union, which has about 35,000 members, would pressure city lawmakers to find a workable ordinance that avoids a total ban on dispensaries.

The effort to organize workers has the support of Americans for Safe Access and the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, two medical-marijuana advocacy groups that have been fighting the proposed ban. Don Duncan, the California director for Americans for Safe Access, said the union may help change opinions about a sector that some have dismissed as rogue. "I think this brings medical cannabis into the field as an industry," he said.

Delphine Pregnon, a union member and a pharmacist, said her industry and the medical-marijuana industry aren't so different. "Medical cannabis dispensaries are just another place for people to get their medicine," she said.

Other branches of United Food and Commercial Workers already represent dispensary employees in other parts of the state.


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-- Kate Linthicum

Photo: Marijuana seedlings are photographed inside Absolute Herbal Pain Solutions in Los Angeles in 2010. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times