Regulating Weed in California is A Daunting Task and Now the Unions are Sparring

California has until January 2018 to figure out a whole lot of complicated issues on how to regulate its largest agricultural crop—marijuana.

Suddenly, tons of people, those who voted for and those who voted against legalizing it, want in.

The Teamsters union, which did not initially support legalization, is one of them.

“There are a lot more players who are interested in talking to us than when we started,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta.

One of California’s complicated issues is how to blend the 2015 Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which set January 2018 as the deadline to implement regulations—even though MMJ has been legal in California since 1996. Better late than never.

Now, with the passage of Prop 64 legalizing recreational weed, legislators need to blend the two laws into something everyone can live with, even though the laws are not terribly different.

However, small distinctions between the two laws are pitting labor unions against one another as they attempt to grow their memberships in the new billion-dollar industry, reports the Sacramento Bee.

One of the main differences is who can move marijuana from farms and manufacturers to market. Enter the Teamsters, who want jobs for their truckers and warehouse workers.

“We already did this hard work,” said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which is part of a coalition that includes the Teamsters.

This coalition supported the 2015 MMJ legislation, which limits business monopolies, and they want similar guidelines for any new regulations. Distributors also like this approach because it gives them a mandatory cut.

The Other Unions

Meanwhile, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the California Cannabis Industry Association and manufacturers do not like those regulations. They prefer the free-market model.

“Right now the Teamsters have a different vision for this industry than UFCW, in terms of how it’s structured,” said Jim Araby, executive director of UFCW Western States Council. “We feel the voters have spoken under 64, which did not mandate a neutral third-party distributor.”

Proposition 64 allows growers and manufacturers to distribute their own wares, with some exceptions.

Whereas the MMJ legislation requires an independent third party to act as a middleman and distribute the product from the growers and manufacturers to retail outlets, much like the alcohol industry.

Araby says distributing booze is different than weed products for reasons of shelf life; weed and weed-infused products can dry out or grow stale.

Retailers Speak Up

Kenny Morrison, who owns VCC Brands, which makes and sells edibles, wants to continue to distribute his own products. He’s already got the trucks, equipment and warehouses and feels his own drivers are better stewards of his brand than a third-party company.

“I don’t want to be reduced to one page in someone else’s brochure, not when they haven’t stood up for cannabis the way I have,” Morrison told the Sacramento Bee. “The Teamsters only got into the mix in the eleventh hour because they wanted a cut of the industry for themselves.”

The Growers Don’t Agree

Hezekiah Allen said the growers have been at the mercy of retailers for years and haven’t been treated fairly. In some instances, he cited, they negotiate prices over the phone only to be charged more when the growers deliver to the stores. He hopes a third-party distributor will offer some pricing protection.

“These manufacturers and retailers have not been treating growers well for the last 15 years,” Allen said. “These distributors [Teamsters] may not treat us well either. But we’ll take the unknown evil over the known evil.”

Politicians Weigh In

Sen. Mike McGuire, who represents Northern California counties where much of the country’s marijuana is grown, envisions a regulated market in which local farmers in his district become the craft brewers of the marijuana industry. He doesn’t want them pushed out of the market by corporations moving in and controlling the supply chain from seed to store.

“Having an integrated system makes it extremely difficult for those farmers to succeed in a regulatory world built for the big boys,” said McGuire.

With countless other issues to be solved as well, California needs to establish a regulatory system that allows its booming industry to flourish, while ensuring safe products and preventing monopolies. Whew, good luck.

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