Medical pot workers opt to become unionized

OAKLAND -- Jimmy Hoffa would be stoked.

In what cannabis fans were calling a high-water mark for their movement to legitimize the drug, about 100 employees of medical marijuana businesses in Oakland were welcomed to the ranks of unionized workers Friday after voting to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

The move, which union officials said was the first time medical marijuana employees had been so represented, was hailed by the local's leadership, who called their new members "great workers."

"This is a natural for us," said Ron Lind, president of Local 5, whose 26,000 other members work primarily in grocery and meat industries. "Our union's primary jurisdiction is retail."

The move was welcomed by Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, the medical marijuana trade school whose Oakland campus employs about 60 newly unionized members in its dispensary, gift shop and plant nursery.

Lee said his employees were offered health benefits and paid vacation, but that the union imprimatur was an important milestone in the battle to bring marijuana into the mainstream.

"It's one more step towards ending federal restrictions," said Lee, a leading proponent of a November ballot measure that would legalize, regulate and tax the drug in California.

Marijuana, legal for medical use in California and more than a dozen other states, is prohibited by federal law.