In the weeks after dueling pot-themed cover stories from Newsweek and National Geographic, those involved in the world of legalized marijuana sales are now feeling a sense of mainstream acceptance. Even CNN’s pot-business reality teevee show mainly displays what a mundane sort of economy will develop once legal adult use is a reality throughout the country. Today the legal cannabis distribution model has matured from its larvae stage to the “regulatory experiment” phase to its current status as a full-fledged modern industry worth over $3 billion annually. However with legitimacy comes responsibility, and employers in this business have to start acting right towards their workers.
1. Diversity in the workplace is an issue.
Articles about the lack of diversity are appearing with increasing regularity, not because of some prohibitionist master plan,1 but because the laws allowing legal weed businesses are structured to reinforce racial disparities endemic in the drug war. Proponents of legal cannabis, especially individuals involved in crafting local or state ballot measures, must make sure that people with criminal records are not prevented from working in this business. Society as a whole is coming to understand the explicitly racist collateral consequences from three decades of over-criminalization. The irony of denying the victims of the drug war access to profit from the legal marketplace in order to appease regulators and voters is a massive betrayal to the people who were brave enough to take on these unjust laws in the first place.
2. Pay your goddamn workers.
Yes, state and local regulations might seemingly force you to classify the people who work for you as “volunteers.” Or, perhaps your workforce would prefer to not leave a paper trail. However, by not paying your workers a living wage, appropriate state and federal taxes, and providing them with benefits comparable to their labor, you are gonna be in trouble.
Ethically, it is obviously important, both in terms of public relations and basic economics, to ensure that the employees of a cannabis business are well compensated. After all, by treating employees in a dispensary, cultivation site, etc, just as well (or preferably better than) people working in other analogous industries, we as a trade will have an easier time convincing legislators to loosen burdensome regulations that negatively affect profits.
3. Abide by the corporate structure.
Similar to the issue of adherence to labor law, there is an excellent legal reason (at least in California) to preserve the corporate structure of a cannabis workplace. Under the Compassionate Use Act and SB 4.2.0, current holders of a medical marijuana recommendation are largely immune from criminal prosecution for the cultivation, possession, and even distribution of this otherwise illegal drug. Today’s marijuana businesses are therefore allowed under state law purely because the courts (and later a few statutes) recognized the legality of individuals who chose to collectivize their specific legal protections into some sort of organization. Therefore by not abiding by basic tenets of corporate law (i.e. maintaining the specific legal and fiduciary duties of officers and board members), you could be inadvertently exposing everyone who works for you to serious criminal prosecution. Simply put, corporate compliance in the weed industry is the difference between staying in business or going to jail.
4. Just say no to bribes.
The cannabis industry today is unfortunately vulnerable to shady-ass politicians asking for a handout. And sadly this reality is not the fault of the operators. Many people in the industry are so eager to please their local representatives (and so new to the above-ground economy) that they don’t recognize the legal consequences of accepting offers of “protection” from crooked politicians or the police.
But the short-term gain of accepting this “cost of doing business” is far outweighed by the almost guaranteed disaster awaiting people who pay bribes. When the federal government eventually finds out about this sort of activity, it is far easier to harass/prosecute a federally illegal business than a well-connected public official. Furthermore this industry’s growing acceptance is the product of years of careful activism and a steadfast commitment to ending the true criminality created by the drug war. Giving into corruption for the sake of pecuniary gains takes away what is probably the most significant part of the cannabis movement’s political appeal: the restoration of public trust.
opponents of legal pot aren’t that clever ↩