Medical marijuana dispensary becomes first in Orange County to unionize

Orange County's first licensed medical marijuana dispensary now has an additional distinction: first medical cannabis shop in the county to unionize.

South Coast Safe Access has signed a collective bargaining agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 324 covering the Santa Ana shop's 20 employees. The contract will go into effect Monday.

Workers will be paid at least $13.50 an hour and receive employer-paid medical benefits and employer contributions to a retirement pension, said Rick Eiden, executive vice president of UFCW Local 324. The state's minimum wage is $10 an hour.

Unionizing the shop "really coincides with the work we've done in the retail drug industry," Eiden said. "Employees interact with the patients in determining their needs and working on a sensible prescription for what their needs are.”

South Coast Safe Access could not be reached for immediate comment. 

The labor agreement is also intended to help increase the industry's credibility, Eiden said.

He said the union is talking with other Orange County dispensaries about similar labor agreements.

In the city of Los Angeles, 26 medical marijuana dispensaries have been unionized, according to Rigoberto Valdez, Jr., director of organizing at UFCW Local 770.

Unionizing the medical cannabis industry also could provide a boost to the union.

"Here in California, we've maintained our numbers in the labor movement," Eiden said. "But we haven't seen large numbers of growth in decades."

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