International Cannabis Workers Code of 2017

The International Cannabis Workers Code was formed in 2017 to rethink our understanding of cannabis workers, and open up new questions about occupational health and employment rights. The Code augments government regulation and is designed to create a platform for cannabis workers to have an influential voice on the job. As a set of principles to build a pro-worker global cannabis economy, the Code is a resource to build cultures of health and solidarity in cannabis workplaces and markets. 

What are the experiences of individuals who work in legal cannabis cultivation facilities and trimming rooms? Increasing workplace protections and achieving legally binding collective bargaining agreements are required in the cannabis industry. What do living wages and strong workplace health and safety protections for cannabis workers mean for employers, consumers and patients? What resources exist for workers to inform employers, temp/staffing agency officials, consultants, and investors about living wages, fair employment contracts, and solutions to cannabis-related environmental challenges that create quality jobs, superior products and positive patient outcomes?

Fully or partially legalized cannabis for medical and/or adult use exists in 21 countries. At the core of the global cannabis economy are farmers and workers who produce cannabis products and generate corporate profits. In the U.S., up to 230,000 full- and part-time workers devote their labor to cannabis production, generating $6.7 billion in revenues in 2016. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,004 in 2016, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $802. The intent of the Code is to make the cannabis sector work better for more people and build a world cannabis economy that is kind, compassionate, and compliant.

The International Cannabis Workers Code of 2017 was created by Marty Otañez, Associate Professor, Anthropology Department in the University of Colorado Denver, and Producer of the public access television show through Denver Open Media called Getting High on Anthropology: A Story-Based Approach to Cannabis Research, Education and Funding. The Code and desire to build a pro-worker global cannabis economy is grounded in ethnographic research and experience, which are key elements of evidence-based and data-driven research and creative work.

International Cannabis Workers Code of 2017: Criteria (PDF)

  • Cannabis workers shall assert our legal rights to form a trade union
  • Workers in a union participate in negotiations over wages and benefits with an employer for a contract 
  • If cannabis workers assert our right to form a union, we should be ready for employer-generated confusion, coercion, intimidation and other anti-worker tactics to keep us from having an influential voice on the job
  • Cannabis company owners and managers, government officials, and policy makers who recognize our legal rights to form a union and do not obstruct union campaigns shall be presented in such a way to create respect for cannabis employers and ethical supply chains
  • In every cannabis workplace living wages shall triumph over low or stagnant wages. Cannabis workers and unions shall advocate for regular wage increases, routine promotions, protections against unfair discipline or firing, vacation hours, stability in scheduling, sick pay, and overtime and workers’ compensation
  • Occupational hazards that harm workers shall be eliminated. Problems of mold, powdery mildew ("green lung"), unsafe chemicals and excessive tetrahydrocannabinol on work surfaces shall be remedied
  • Repetitive hand motions when trimming cannabis, and practices to clean, lubricate, sharpen and maintain tools shall be completed so as to not injure trimmers and other cultivation workers
  • Personal protective equipment provided by employers such as non-latex gloves, hearing protection, respirators, eye wear and clothing shall be effectively used when handling cannabis and cannabis products
  • Cannabis workers shall maintain wellness and reduce ergonomic injuries pertaining to lifting and moving containers, plants, dirt, pesticides and material in general. Individuals who sit and stand when trimming cannabis shall receive frequent breaks and rotate among jobs that use different muscle groups
  • Cannabis workers and unions shall end wrongful terminations, wage disputes, harassment and workplace racial and gender discrimination
  • Gender, race and class pay gaps exist in the cannabis sector and these gaps undermine any claims of ethical and sustainable cannabis production; cannabis workers shall challenge pay disparities and promote conditions to bring about a higher standard of living of cannabis workers
  • Cannabis workers shall monitor and respond to cannabis industry professional groups and trade associations that lobby against minimum wage increases, living wage policies, and improvements in unemployment benefits and collective bargaining rights
  • Cannabis workers shall support measures to deter cannabis industry interference in policies and laws designed to increase workplace protections and union rights
  • Cannabis workers shall promote understanding of how cannabis industry interference in government pro-worker and pro-union policy making is an obstacle to healthy workplaces and employment rights
  • Efforts to diversify the cannabis workforce and promote workplace gender and racial justice shall be viewed as legitimate only if those advocating for diversity do not exploit workers in their supply chains and do not retaliate against workers who engage in union activity
  • Cannabis industry social and environmental responsibility schemes as well as cannabis philanthropic initiatives shall be supported only when cannabis companies involved in these efforts publicly demonstrate a good faith effort to support living wages, fair contracts, climate justice initiatives and union organizing campaigns as community engagement issues
  • Organic and sustainable cannabis products truly exist when workers receive wage increases, job security and improved working conditions; workers shall not support claims of ethical and pesticide-free cannabis production when employers engage in anti-union intimidation campaigns 
  • Certified responsible worker training with continuing education credits about occupational safety, living wages, employment rights and sustainable cannabis cultivation practices shall be promoted to achieve dignified living and working conditions for cannabis workers
  • Professional certificate programs in workplace protections as well as apprenticeship programs covering sustainable production practices may be funded through cannabis-related taxes and designed to improve the safety of cannabis workers and increase awareness of our rights to form a labor union


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