NEW YORK, N.Y.—The Vireo medical-marijuana dispensary chain and Local 338 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union announced Aug. 31 that they would begin offering discounts to labor-union members and retirees in New York State on Labor Day, Sept. 3.
Vireo, which operates dispensaries in the Elmhurst section of Queens, White Plains, Albany, and Johnson City, said it will give members and retirees of the 3,000 unions affiliated with the New York State AFL-CIO $25 off their first purchase of its medical-marijuana extracts and a 10% discount on future purchases.
“This program is designed to make our products more affordable and to educate New York’s union members about the medicinal benefits of marijuana as an alternative to opioids,” Vireo CEO Ari Hoffnung said in a statement. “Vireo and Local 338 share a deep commitment to ensuring that jobs created by New York’s cannabis industry are well-paying and that employees are treated with dignity and respect.”
Vireo was the first of the six “registered organizations” that operate the state’s 22 medical-marijuana dispensaries to sign a collective bargaining agreement. Local 338 represents workers at its four dispensaries and its growing/manufacturing facility in Orange County.
“Local 338 has a proud and long history of encouraging its members to shop union, and we are actively encouraging those members certified as medical marijuana patients to only shop at unionized dispensaries, like those managed by Vireo,” said President John R. Durso, who is also head of the Long Island Federation of Labor.
The RWDSU local also represents workers at PharmaCann, which runs dispensaries in the Bronx, Albany, and the suburbs of Syracuse and Buffalo. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 represents those at MedMen, which has dispensaries in Manhattan, Lake Success, and two upstate, and 1199SEIU workers at Columbia Care’s in Manhattan, Riverhead, and Rochester.
New York State’s 2014 medical-marijuana law, sponsored by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and state Sen. Diane Savino (D/IDC-Staten Island/Brooklyn), requires all licensed medical-cannabis businesses to sign a “labor peace” agreement that they won’t interfere with union organizing. Few of the 31 states that have legalized medical-marijuana have such laws; California enacted one when it legalized recreational use by adults in 2016.
Unions, particularly the UFCW, the Teamsters, and the United Farm Workers, have had some success organizing marijuana-industry workers in California; in Oregon and Washington, which have also legalized recreational use; and at medical dispensaries in Minnesota and New Mexico. But they have encountered resistance in Colorado, the first state to begin recreational-marijuana sales, with pot businesses utilizing tactics like firing union supporters before workers could vote on whether to join the union.
New York’s medical-marijuana law, like those in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, does not allow patients to use actual marijuana. The dispensaries instead sell capsules, tinctures, and vaporization oils containing marijuana extracts, in various ratios of THC, the main intoxicating ingredient, and CBD, which is believed to have more sedative effects. A vial with about 14 full doses of tincture sells for $53.50, so Vireo’s discount program would bring that down to about $48.