Employees in California’s huge marijuana industry are starting to join unions. One hundred employees in Oakland pot shops – including Oaksterdam University and Blue Sky Coffee Shop, the establishments of California cannabis initiative lead Richard Lee – will announce tomorrow they will join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). The workers all signed cards and will have their union recognized under majority sign-up.

The LA Times reports:

Workers at three medical marijuana businesses in Oakland will announce Friday that they have unionized, another step in a concerted campaign aimed at bringing legitimacy to a once-hidden sector of the state’s economy and boosting the marijuana-legalization initiative.

Union representatives and the business owners believe it is the first time that workers in the nation’s growing medical marijuana industry have joined a union.

Employees at dispensaries are the most obvious source of organizing opportunities, but the industry itself has many different angles ripe for organizing. From growers to farmers, distributors to dispensaries, thousands of people work in every aspect of the marijuana industry from seed to smoke. UFCW is ahead of the curve in planting seeds in the industry if marijuana does become legal in California.

It’s clear though, as the Times reports, that Lee’s employees forming a unionis part of a courtship of both the UFCW and the powerful California Labor Federation ahead of November’s election.

Lee is also hoping that the local, which has about 26,000 members in the state, can help win the initiative an endorsement from the California Labor Federation. “They have a lot of political muscle,” he said.

That would be a coup, said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“It would be a huge difference because unions have boots on the ground,” he said. “The question is whether this is actually going to be a major priority for organized labor at a time when the state has over 12% unemployment.”

I have my doubts if California Labor would put “boots on the ground” for legalization, but it would be quite effective if it did turn out. In addition to the alliance with UFCW, marijuana legalization advocates already have an ally in AFT national president Randi Weingarten.

Either way, it’s very encouraging to have marijuana industry employees exercise their rights to join a union without interference from their employers.