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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grass Roots Is First S.F. Medical Cannabis Dispensary to Join Union

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 at 9:10 AM

click to enlarge Look for the union label
  • Look for the union label

San Francisco is known as a union town and a city rich with medical cannabis dispensaries. It was only a matter of time before the two intersected.

A year after United Food and Commercial Workers began organizing medical cannabis operations in Oakland and Marin County, Grass Roots collective has become the first of San Francisco's 26 dispensaries to have its workers turn in cards and join the union, according to organizer Dan Rush, UFCW Local 5's medical cannabis director.

And what timing: Grass Roots' union membership was official at around the same time the collective sought to open up a second location on the 900 block of Mission Street, within parking distance of the Metreon. This effort was mysteriously stalled by a phantom hotel project with no financing after the hoteliers' concerns gave the Planning Commission reason to pause. But then the dispensary's second location was finally approved last month.

That timing was a mere coincidence, SF Weekly was told. Although it's worth noting that union membership gives MCDs some legitimacy they might otherwise lack.

Grass Roots decided to join UFCW a few weeks before the original April hearing, according to Brendan Hallinan, the collective's attorney. It took only one meeting between Rush and Hallinan to determine they had the same priorities. And it took only one meeting between Rush and Grass Roots for the collective to decide to join the union.

"I would love to take all the credit, but all the work had already been done," Rush told SF Weekly last week. "All we did was make some phone calls, then show up [at Planning's hearing], and tell the planners that Grass Roots was a union shop."

Hallinan does give credit to UFCW for getting Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the area, on board. "I think they helped us with Supervisor Kim's office and the Planning Commission in affecting their perception of what type of dispensary Grass Roots intended to open," he told SF Weekly in an e-mail.

Grass Roots's involvment could signal a shift in S.F. dispensaries' willingness to join the union movement: A full year after Rush organized workers at Medicone in Marin County and at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, the only other shop to turn in cards had been Bay Area Compassion Health Center, the Sunset District dispensary that had lost its permit at the Board of Appeals last November. 

Then again, it might not signal a shift toward unions: SF Weekly contacted plenty of dispensaries to ask about the union movement, yet none have gotten back to us. And the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force has taken no position on union shops, according to a spokesman (though Rush himself is a member, of its legal committee).

It may not be any coincidence that Grass Roots was the first dispensary to sign up with Rush's UFCW Local 5: As it turns out, legendary labor lawyer Vincent Hallinan, Brendan's grandfather and former supervisor/DA Terence's father, once defended Rush's grandfather Eugene, a union machinist, during a World War II-era labor dispute.

"We've always enjoyed that Irish labor component in our lives," Rush told SF Weekly.

And, now it's all things Emerald Triangle as well as Emerald Isle.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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