Big union supports California measure to legalize marijuana

Proponents of the marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot won the endorsement Wednesday of the council that oversees the political work of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in California, as well as one of the union’s major locals, giving proponents a significant boost to their campaign.

They also had hoped to win the endorsement of the California Labor Federation, which met this week in San Diego, but decided not to press for a vote and settled instead on persuading the powerful organization to remain neutral — which it did.

“Obviously, I would have liked to have had a full endorsement,” said Dan Rush, who oversees special operations for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 5, and has pushed efforts to gain union support for the measure. But he noted that the neutral stance means the 1,200 member unions are now free to endorse the initiative, and contribute money and campaign volunteers.

“I’m expecting to garner the endorsements of most of the major unions in California over the next several weeks,” Rush said.

Proposition 19 would allow adults 21 and older to possess, grow and transport marijuana, and it would allow cities and counties to regulate and tax commercial sales. It also would allow the production of hemp, which union leaders believe could generate thousands of agricultural jobs.

The union’s Local 5 has assigned Rush to work on the initiative.

“I’ll be handling the strategy to bring in other unions, and their endorsements and resources,” he said.

The local has about 26,000 members in California and has launched efforts to organize workers in the expanding marijuana industry, counting about 100 as members.

The local, along with the union’s Western States Council, which works with union locals in California and four other states to coordinate political activities, endorsed Proposition 19.

George Landers, the council’s executive director, said in a statement that the endorsement was a natural outgrowth of the council’s support for the medical marijuana initiative in 1996.

“We view Proposition 19 as an enhanced version of the previous proposition that creates taxable revenue, and produces jobs in agriculture, healthcare, retail and possibly textile,” he said.

The state’s unions, if they decided to commit substantial money and hours, could play a major role in the campaign. Besides money, union workers often operate phone banks and walk door-to-door.

The union support also helps the proponents underscore one of their main messages: that marijuana ought to be treated as a business that could create jobs and bring in much needed new tax revenues.