Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

October 4, 2010
If price drops, future may be hazy for California pot workers

MAJ MATTHEW WITEMYRE.JPGOne key question could affect the commercialization of the California marijuana business and the drive to organize the trade for union-scale workers.

How much will the price of weed drop if voters pass Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana for recreational use?

The Rand Corporation has estimated that legalizing marijuana beyond current medical use could cause its price to drop by more than 80 percent, bringing the cost of a joint to as low as $1.50.

That stirs debate over whether new legal marijuana business that will emerge will be sufficient to create and maintain well-paying jobs - and sustain union dreams of expanding membership in a potent sector of the California economy.

Jeff Wilcox, one of the subjects of Sunday's Sacramento Bee story on the union push to organize current and emerging California pot industries, is bullish on the marijuana market, regardless of potential price fluctuations.

The former construction manager is bidding for an Oakland marijuana cultivation license for a cavernous warehouse serving the current medical marijuana market. A study for his firm, AgraMed Inc., predicted the operations could total $47 million to $71 million in annual cannabis sales.

Wilcox is promising some 400 union-scale jobs serving the medical marijuana market alone. He says the operation could boom in employment and reap up to $250 million if California voters approve Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana beyond medical use.

He said AgraMed could then adjust, and absorb the changes, as the price falls over the next decade.

"Looking at the Rand report, if the prices bottom out, then we're down to $50 million a year - like a large-scale winery or something," said Wilcox, who predicts the price drop will be gradual if Proposition passes.

Lou Marchetti, a Teamsters Union organizer who recently negotiated contracts for marijuana workers in Oakland, said it may be difficult to predict the long-term marijuana employment picture beyond the existing medical industry.

Thumbnail image for MAJ POT CIGARETTES.JPGMarchetti said unions are just "at the tip of the iceberg" in organizing workers in the medical marijuana market. But he won't venture a guess on broader legalization or falling pot prices.

While the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is also organizing cannabis industry workers, has heartily endorsed Proposition 19, the Teamsters are taking no position on the initiative.

"If it passes, there is a fear of giant corporations coming in and, when the Rand Crop says it could drop the prices, that gets a little scary," Marchetti said.

He said the Teamsters are focusing only on organizing industries serving the legal medical cannabis market. Later on, he said, the union will "adjust with whatever happens after Proposition 19."

Pictured: Above - Matthew Witemyre of the United Food and Commercial Workers tends to marijuana plants at Medi-Cone in Marin County. Below - Packaging the finished products of marijuana cigarettes manufacturer. Michael Allen Jones/mjones@sacbee.com

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