Marijuana legalization heading for the Oregon ballot, with likely union support

CANNABIS WORKERS UPRISING: Mason Peace, Jessy Dreyer, Barrett Ross, Kenneth Kautz, Misha Litvak, pictured at the June 15 Pride Northwest parade, were some of the nine signature gatherers who went on strike June 9 after the Campaign for Restoration and Regulation of Hemp failed to pay their wages. That campaign called it quits, but a better-funded effort to legalize marijuana in Oregon turned in signatures June 26 and expects to be on the ballot in November.
CANNABIS WORKERS UPRISING: Mason Peace, Jessy Dreyer, Barrett Ross, Kenneth Kautz, Misha Litvak, pictured at the June 15 Pride Northwest parade, were some of the nine signature gatherers who went on strike June 9 after the Campaign for Restoration and Regulation of Hemp failed to pay their wages. That campaign called it quits, but a better-funded effort to legalize marijuana in Oregon turned in signatures June 26 and expects to be on the ballot in November.

A measure to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana is expected to be on the ballot in Oregon this November, and it’s likely to get a full-throated endorsement from the state’s largest private sector union, United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555.

UFCW has supported marijuana legalization efforts around the United States, as well as a bill in Congress sponsored by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that would ending federal marijuana prohibition and allow states to choose whether to allow marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. UFCW even has a cannabis division, dedicated to unionizing workers in the newly legal enterprises. The division is known as Cannabis Workers Rising, and has its own web site, cannabisworkers.org Thus far, cannabis workers in six states and the District of Columbia have joined UFCW — including workers at dispensaries, coffee shops, bakeries, patient identification centers, hydroponics stores, and growing and training facilities.

Though UFCW Local 555 doesn’t normally make endorsements until after initiatives qualify, secretary-treasurer Jeff Anderson said it’s likely to support the Oregon measure, consistent with the policy of its national union.

“We see it as a growth industry,” Anderson said. UFCW represents workers in food, agriculture, pharmacies, and retail, and all of those industries could see job growth under marijuana legalization, Anderson said.

In 2012, Local 555 supported and helped contribute signatures to an Oregon ballot measure that would have created a commission to regulate commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana and hemp, but the measure failed with just under 47 percent of the vote.

This year’s measure, sponsored by the group New Approach Oregon, is modeled on the one that passed in 2012 in Washington state. It would allow the possession, manufacture, sale of marijuana by and to adults, subject to licensing, regulation, and taxation by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Of the tax revenues generated, 40 percent would fund K-12 education, 20 percent would go to mental health and alcohol and drug treatment, 20 percent would go to local law enforcement, 15 percent to state police, and 5 percent to the Oregon Health Authority. Driving under the influence would still be against the law, and cities and counties would be allowed to prohibit retail sales. Sponsors turned in 145,000 signatures on June 26, and expect to qualify for the November ballot.

Anderson was optimistic about the prospects of New Approach Oregon’s measure.  Polls show public support for legalization has grown steadily over the last 30 years, and since 2011, legalization has had the support of a majority of Americans. Despite continued federal prohibition, marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America, after alcohol and tobacco, and nearly 100 million Americans have used it. Twenty-three states including Oregon have legalized medical use, and two states — Colorado and Washington — have legalized recreational use by adults.

 

Rival campaign stiffs paid petitioners, who go on strike

Oregonians may remember signing two other initiative petitions about marijuana this year. Alongside New Approach Oregon’s initiative, the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp was gathering signatures on a constitutional amendment and a statutory change. That might have made for ballot confusion, but the campaign folded in late June, after stiffing its signature gatherers — and opposing a union campaign by members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the union better known by its nickname the Wobblies. Nine paid petitioners — about half of the campaign’s workers — went on strike June 9 after the campaign failed to pay them three days in a row. Their twice-monthly paychecks had been late before, and sometimes bounced. Strikers drew up a list of demands, including $15-an-hour pay rate, and provision of medical marijuana to canvassers who have cards making them eligible. But the campaign locked them out, even after they offered to return to work, and it hired replacements, some of whom were also stiffed of pay they were owed. Signature gatherer Misha Litvak says when she and fellow strikers showed up to picket June 16, they found the campaign door locked and the mail slot blocked. Litvak says chief petitioner William Appel sped off in a Jaguar after strikers saw him leaving through a side door and tried to confront him. Strikers accuse the campaign of illegal retaliation in an unfair labor practice charge that is under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board.

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