The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) has become law, and it’s a success all New Yorkers can be proud of. The law, legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York, puts fairness at its center; communities of color, workers and entrepreneurs are prioritized in this program. The final law reflects the longstanding efforts of worker and community activists to create legislation that will lift up all of our communities.
RWDSU Local 338 represents nearly 500 workers in New York’s medical cannabis industry, and now, with the legalization of adult-use cannabis, we have an opportunity to create more quality jobs. We’ve already seen in New York the difference unions can make in the cannabis industry. In 2014, RWDSU Local 338 fought for the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized medical marijuana, to ensure the industry created good union careers for the workforce. As a result, workers in cannabis cultivation, production, distribution and retail in New York won RWDSU membership, and in turn, negotiated strong union contracts.
With RWDSU Local 338, workers have won guarantees of full-time hours, significant wage increases, generous paid time off, quality health coverage for themselves and their families at no cost, retirement savings benefits, and other crucial workplace protections including on-the-job training. The only way to guarantee these benefits are provided to workers is through a union. The best way to ensure a union exists in the workplace is through mandatory labor standards in the law. Unions have made a difference for these workers, and now the goal is to ensure that the same benefits—and the protections of a union voice—are available to workers in the new adult use cannabis industry.
A diverse industry to build stronger communities
Legalization provides an excellent starting point for reversing the discriminatory cost the decades-long “war on drugs” has had on communities of color. As a union that organizes workers in several low-wage industries including retail, the majority of our members are people of color who live in communities that were targeted by discriminatory drug laws. We all have a stake in ensuring the adult-use cannabis industry not only creates good jobs, but also provides true entrepreneurial opportunities for our membership and their communities. That is why it’s crucial that cannabis industry ownership, management and workforce reflects the diversity that makes New York great.
The RWDSU and our allies also support the resentencing provisions for those who are behind bars for cannabis-related crimes, and expunging and sealing criminal records of those who went to jail for cannabis-related offenses. As the city, state, and country move forward toward cannabis legalization, it’s important those who have been prosecuted for cannabis-related offenses—disproportionately people of color—are allowed to move forward with their lives free of outdated legal repercussions and the stigma that accompanies them.
Legalizing cannabis for adult use opens New York State to an incredible new avenue for job growth, criminal justice reform and economic opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as increased revenue to fund important public services. By making sure that the industry is created responsibly, we can make sure that as the industry flourishes, our communities and working families flourish as well.