Chicagoland Union Gets Cannabis Workers a 20% Raise, So Are Unions Good or Bad for the Marijuana Industry?

May 24, 2023 ·

Organized labor in the marijuana industry continues to achieve significant wage increases, as evidenced by the recent development of five PharmaCann adult-use cannabis dispensaries in Chicago. The unionized workers at these dispensaries have successfully negotiated a substantial 20% wage hike over three years.

The recent wage increase is another noteworthy victory for organized labor, as it adds to the mounting pressure unions place on major cannabis industry operators throughout the country.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, PharmaCann’s Verilife dispensaries witnessed a significant development last week. The workers at these dispensaries, represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 777, ratified a three-year contract. As per the agreement, hourly wages will undergo a substantial 20% increase.

MJBizDaily reports that entry-level pay at certain dispensaries in the Chicago area can be as low as $17 per hour. However, unionized dispensaries have higher starting wages, with union officials stating that it can begin at $19.50 per hour. It’s worth noting that the Teamsters also represent workers at RISE, which Green Thumb Industries own.

According to union officials, the recent 13-day strike at three RISE stores in the Chicago area, which commenced on April 19, is believed to be the longest work stoppage in the history of the U.S. cannabis industry. The contract negotiations between Green Thumb and the Teamster-organized RISE workers are ongoing.

History of Cannabis Union in Chicago

The Illinois cannabis industry, reaching revenue of over $1 billion in its first year of recreational marijuana sales, began experiencing its own “Norma Rae” moment of union awareness.

Cannabis workers across Chicago to Springfield initiated unionization efforts driven by the desire for increased wages, career progression, and enhanced protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. This bold step towards unionization in the cannabis industry potentially reshaped the labor landscape of this rapidly expanding sector.

Making history in Illinois, the employees at the Sunnyside cannabis dispensary located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood have achieved the significant milestone by voting overwhelmingly in favor of unionization. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) supervised the union certification election conducted by mail as a precautionary measure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the submission of their ballots in May, the workers patiently awaited the NLRB’s announcement on June 25, revealing that an impressive 80% of the votes supported the decision to unionize.

In December, the inaugural cannabis union contract in the state was successfully ratified by over 180 employees at the Cresco Labs cultivation center in Joliet. Although the union has been actively organizing cannabis workers since 2011, the movement gained significant momentum through the years, coinciding with the increasing number of states legalizing marijuana.

Walkout In Missouri

Amidst recent developments in Chicago, a dispensary in Missouri witnessed picketing by current and former workers who alleged that management had taken disciplinary actions or terminated employees who attempted to organize.

As reported by the Missouri Independent, nine individuals who currently work or used to work at the Shangri-La South dispensary in Columbia claimed they faced repercussions after organizing a petition drive to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655.

As per the newspaper report, management has denied the allegations made by the current and former workers. However, in response to the situation, these individuals have taken further action by filing federal complaints, asserting violations of federal labor law.

Connecticut Establishes Its First Cannabis Union

Following a news release from the union, approximately 50 employees at Advanced Grow Labs in Connecticut have successfully established the first cannabis union in the state. Specifically, 48 employees from the company’s cultivation facility in West Haven have become members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 919.

UFCW Local 919 President Mark Espinosa expressed enthusiasm for the upcoming contract negotiations, stating that they are excited to bargain a contract and establish the benchmark for all cannabis workers in this state. He further emphasized the significance of collective action, stating that they recognize the power of unity. Thanks to the efforts of these Advanced Grow Labs workers, many more workers will reap the benefits of their hard work.

Following its acquisition by Green Thumb Industries in 2019, Advanced Grow Labs became one of the four licensed companies in Connecticut responsible for cannabis cultivation and processing. The state’s adult-use retail regulations, implemented in 2021, include provisions expected to facilitate the unionization of more operators in Connecticut. Therefore, other companies in the state will likely choose to form unions.

As a prerequisite for final approval, the law mandates that all cannabis licensees in Connecticut must engage in a labor peace agreement (LPA) with a legitimate labor organization. It’s important to note that while an LPA does not mandate workers to join a union, it does establish a framework to facilitate the formation of one if desired.

Over the past few years, cannabis workers in Canada and various U.S. markets, such as California, New Jersey, Illinois, and Missouri, have increasingly joined unions for improved pay, representation, benefits, and overall job security.


As the cannabis market expands, the voice of the industry’s workers grows and develops together. The seeds of unionization have been planted all over the country, from Chicago to Springfield, resulting in historic victories and seismic shifts. The marijuana industry’s labor market is changing as more workers seek fair pay, professional advancement, and increased job security.

Each time a union is formed, or a contract is approved, a new chapter is added to the book, illuminating the power of collective action and the desire to create a better future. Workers and unions nurture a sector of the economy that not only thrives but also accords great importance to the rights and well-being of those who contribute to its success.

The history of cannabis unions is an example of the fortitude and development of a quickly expanding industry, where the common goal of a more empowered and equal worker is progressively becoming a reality. (Full Story)

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