Wanted: marijuana workers. No experience required.

It’s possible to buy union grown medical marijuana and union produced cannabis chocolates from a “budtender” with a collective agreement in the US, but not here.

California cannabis workers have been unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Local 5 Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division since 2010. In 2011, some 8,000 of Colorado’s legal pot sellers and workers, also joined the UFCW.

The union already represents agricultural workers in Canada. Are weed workers next? 

There’s no government data tracking how many cannabis workers there are in Canada, but industry estimates put the number at between 600-800 – and quickly growing since the feds turned over production of medicinal weed to licensed mega-producers as part of changes to the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) last April. (The changes are being challenged in court).

Employment opportunities are happening here but contrary to popular belief, no cannabis experience is required. 

“We can train them on our product,” says Tweed Inc’s Executive VP Mark Zekulin, who’s watching workers harvest at the company’s  Smith Falls facility while we’re talking over the phone. “What we’re really seeking are perfectly bilingual people who want to understand our product.”

Every Health Canada licensed producer has their own onsite client care call centre and these departments are growing just as quickly as the horticulture department.  

The feds create new jobs every time Health Canada approves a new facility. Twenty-three have been opened so far and some 300 more have applied to be licensed.

Philippe Lucas, VP Patient Research and Services at Nanaimo-B.C.-based Tilray says the company can’t get approval fast enough for its expanding operations. 

“We are currently awaiting approval for 16 additional grow rooms. As soon as these rooms are approved, there will be an immediate need for an additional 15 – 25 trimmers and 10 – 15 horticulturalists and of course other support staff.”

These employees are not playing in the pot. Some are performing very labour-intensive horticulture chores.

A former Tweed Inc. employee who worked at the company’s Niagara Region factory, told me: “I was cleaning and setting up drip lines. We were on our knees the whole day cutting plant bottoms. It was a repetitive, rushed work environment. I’d get blisters on my thumbs and back pain.”

Zekulin agrees, “It’s very demanding working with plants.”

The licensed producers I talked to declined to discuss specifics about wages. But my Tweed source says he was paid $13.75 an hour.

It could be worse for legal weed laborers. Agriculture laws allow for longer work days and pay based on how much a person harvests. Reviewing both Ontario and BC farm labour laws, I wonder if newly-licensed pot producers could use it to drive down wages in Canada’s med cannabis industry.

“We are zoned agriculture, but we do not employ people under the agriculture labour laws. The nature of entry level work in a facility is much different,” explains The Peace Naturals Mark Gobuty.

The labour is similar, but Gobuty cites intense Health Canada scrutiny as reasons a licensed producer wouldn’t want to use Ontario’s agriculture industry as an employment standard. Any misstep could result in a contaminated and recalled crop. The exactness of producing med pot compared to veggies has cannabis labourers winning out wage wise, but it’s hard work.

All three companies employ hand trimmers because patients prefer it. Mechanical trimmers shred buds terribly, leaving too little or too much plant material on nugs. Trimming sounds fun until you have worked a pair of shears for eight hours.  

When harvests come in, Tweed Inc. bulks up their employment numbers with contractual trimmers and half The Peace Natural phone team becomes their trim team.

Gobuty explains trimming helps their phone staff better communicate to the company’s clients about their product.Agriculture workers picking fruits and veggies are paid by the pound or a flat rate. Thankfully, that’s not the case for bud trimmers.  But companies do know how much someone should be able to trim on average and watch for slackers.

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