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California Cannabis Advisory Committee Zeroes in on Unions, Appellations

California Cannabis Advisory Committee Zeroes in on Unions, Appellations

During the California Cannabis Advisory Committee’s day-long meeting on September 7, two priorities were front-and-center: how best to protect workers, and how to push forward a program that will pave the way for the Champagne of cannabis.

The Committee, which makes recommendations to the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC), the state’s cannabis regulatory body, typically hears updates from its subcommittees. But amid growing concerns that some cannabis employers are evading the requirement that they must have an agreement with “a bona fide labor organization,” Thursday’s meeting began with a conversation about labor peace agreements.

“It’s a pretty hot topic at the moment,” said Committee chair Ali Jamalian.

The Committee heard a presentation from Victoria Hassid, chair of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Under the state’s law, the ALRB receives complaints if someone alleges that a cannabis license has an agreement with a non bonafide labor organization. The ALRB will conduct an investigation within 90 days, and send its decision to the DCC. (The labor peace requirement applies to cannabis businesses that employ 20 or more people; next July, the threshold will lower to 10.)

The first such decision came this July, in response to a complaint that the Teamsters filed against an entity called Professional Technical Union, Local 33 (Pro-Tech 33). After the ALRB agreed with the Teamsters, the DCC sent out an email to stakeholders about the decision and said that licensees “who have entered into a labor peace agreement with Pro-Tech 33 will be notified that they are out of compliance with licensure requirements.”  

Hassid spoke about some of the ALRB’s considerations as it worked through the Pro-Tech case, for example, that the ALRB “did not want to foreclose opportunities if there was possibly a startup union.” In other words, they tried to understand that, just because a union didn’t have some of the same “structure” as a more “established” union, like the Teamsters, it wasn’t necessarily a red flag. It is a red flag, however, if there is a lack of cooperation and transparency, which is what happened in the case of Pro-Tech.

Matt Broad, who presented to the Committee on behalf of the California Teamsters, said that it has become clear that some licensees have treated the labor requirements as “sort of a paper tiger where people looked at it as something they needed to do to check a box.” As a result, he continued, “there’s been quite a bit of evasiveness and the proliferation of non bona fide unions.”

The Teamsters are behind a second complaint with the ALRB, which is currently under investigation, this time focused on an entity called National Agricultural Workers Union (NAWU). The company with the strongest ties to NAWU is Caliva, which is owned by The Parent Company. Caliva has stores across California. 

The ensuing discussion focused on potential solutions for cannabis employers and employees who might be unfamiliar with the labor landscape and laws. One suggestion was the creation of a list of bona fide unions from which cannabis employers could choose. However, one challenge with that option is that it could imply that a union not on the list, such as a startup union, is not bona fide when in fact it wasn’t intentionally left off the list. Hassid flagged, for stakeholders seeking resources, that the DCC has published a list of the agreements that it has on file.

Hassid noted that one suggestion that the ALRB made to the DCC as it works on rules related to these agreements is that the DCC require employers to post the agreement, and to do so “in a way where workers could access it and not necessarily have to self-identify themselves to their employer.”

The meeting then turned to updates from the Cultivation, Equity, and Public Health and Community Impact subcommittees.

The cultivation conversation focused on the state’s forthcoming Appellations of Origin program. As Cannabis Wire has reported, the program would allow for names that recognize how and where cannabis was grown, similar to the significance of “Champagne” for wine.

The DCC specifically asked the cultivation subcommittee for recommendations as it crafts regulations on packaging and labeling. (The appellations program, however, is under the purview of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.)

The Committee approved all five of the subcommittee’s recommendations, which included: that products produced within one of these appellations have a label that is “tamper proof, unique in appearance, such as holographic seal, ideally embedded with a QR code;” that DCC “adopt regulations for labeling non-manufactured cannabis to require the appellation name, followed by the term ‘appellation’ on the primary panel of the label;” that “DCC adopt one year as the appropriate transition time for businesses that do not meet the appellation of origin requirements” but were using the name on their products before the appellation was approved; that DCC “develop different penalties for the misuse of the appellation name or seal and for counterfeit seals” and that “both shall be no less than $500;” and that DCC “require that each Appellation of Origin producer maintain a copy of the approved petition and the public notice of approval on site at all times, and to make that paperwork readily available to the DCC for purposes of inspection.”

The Equity subcommittee plans to continue its conversation about how to refine the definition of “equity” under state law, but it did put forth one motion for a vote by the full Committee, which the Committee approved: “for the purposes of determining disproportionately impacted, the Committee recommends that DCC include arrest data by local and state law enforcement agencies rather than by census tract.”

Finally, the Public Health and Community Impact subcommittee did not put forth any motions. It did, however, provide updates on its recent work, which is focused on high-THC products in the adult use market. Some of the strategies that the subcommittee has discussed include, for example, taxing products according to their THC content. The subcommittee plans to focus next on product labeling and marketing to determine whether to recommend any new regulations to DCC. 

The CAC meets again in December.

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