Updated January 30 at 7:30pm

Med.-marijuana advocates get new union ally

Bloomberg News
Medical-marijuana advocates lobbying Congress got powerful new allies last week to help them make the case for getting federal prosecutors to back off: labor leaders. More

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POLITICS

Med.-marijuana advocates get new union ally

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Medical-marijuana advocates lobbying Congress got powerful new allies last week to help them make the case for getting federal prosecutors to back off: labor leaders.

The 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents meat packers, retail and grocery employees, is joining with advocates for pot dispensaries to push the Justice Department to ease off on those that sell the drug where it’s permitted locally. If that happens, legal cannabis – projected to reach almost $9 billion in sales in several years – could be a growth area for unions struggling to find new members.

“We’re in uncharted territory here, and the union could play a critical role,” Harley Shaiken, who teaches on labor and the international economy at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview. “On some level, whether it’s a supermarket or a marijuana dispensary, you’ve got similar issues in the workplace.”

Pot used to ease pain related to ailments such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis was a $1.7 billion market in 2011, and may increase to $8.9 billion in five years, according to a report from See Change Strategy LLC of Olney, Md., that was financed by American Cannabis Research Institute.

There are almost 25 million potential patients eligible for medical marijuana under current state laws, according to See Change. While 19 states or localities, including Rhode Island, have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis, the drug remains illegal under federal law. •

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