Sept. 21, 2010 -- A union in Northern California is lighting up controversy with its recent decision to unionize a group of medical marijuana growers.
The Teamsters Local 70 Union in Oakland, Calif., signed up nearly 40 new members earlier this month, all workers at a medical marijuana company called Marjyn Investments LLC. The company contracts with medical marijuana patients to grow their pot for them.
The Marjyn employees, who do everything from gardening to cloning the plants, are now the nation's first group of unionized marijuana growers, though their business of cultivating cannabis remains a crime under federal law.
Teamsters organizer Lou Marchetti is the man who signed up the growers and negotiated a two-year contract for them. They'll now receive a number of benefits, including paid vacation and set pay increases.
"They're workers. They need a job. They want healthcare and a pension, and we got it for them," said Marchetti.
The medical marijuana industry has grown rapidly in California thanks to the state's liberal laws allowing for retail marijuana dispensaries. Still, state law provided few clear rules for actually growing the plant. This July, though, the Oakland City Council authorized industrial pot cultivation, the first city in the country to do so.
Since Local 70 signed on its new members, Marchetti says that many other union leaders in the state have called him to see if they can get in on the business of organizing growers.
"This has been going on for five years in California," Marchetti said, defending the new members and their work. "They're workers in an industry that came to us and wanted representation. I also represent Young's Market, which is a liquor company."
Today on the Conversation, ABC's John Berman spoke with Marchetti about his new union members and a growing industry that remains under a cloud of smoke.