The Botanist dispensary on the Atlantic City, NJ boardwalk. For now, the city will only allow medical use sales for dispensaries on the boardwalk. Credit: Mike Thompson / UFCW

More than 60 New Jersey workers from The Botanist, a dispensary brand owned by Acreage Holdings, are expected to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union pending certification.

The announcement by UFCW Local 152, comes on the heels of adult use sales in the state working toward finalization. The Botanist will be one of seven Alternative Treatment Centers expected to receive adult use sales authorization, an advantageous position ahead of new applicants still working through the process.

“Yesterday was a good day to keep moving forward,” said Mike Thompson, Director of Organizing at Local 152. “The UFCW has been involved in the state for a long time, but we had a governor before that held things up or we would be further down the path with adult recreation. But we lobbied hard for labor peace agreements and standards and we have been advocating for 10-15 years.”

The Botanist has locations in Egg Harbor, Williamstown, and on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. While approved by the state to provide adult use service at all three locations, Atlantic City will not currently allow non-medical sales on the boardwalk. Another UFCW branch, Local 360, will represent employees at The Botanist Williamstown location due to internal union jurisdiction boundaries.

“Talking to the company about that, I think right now they have no plans on moving,” Thompson said of the Atlantic City location. “I think they are hoping somewhere down the line [approval for sales on the boardwalk] will change. Ideally, they’d like to stay there. It’s a nice spot.”

Employees at The Cannabist in Deptford, Columbia Care’s retail brand, filed a petition for representation on March 4. That vote is set for April 18 with UFCW Local 360 leading that organization effort.

Thompson stressed the importance of unionization in the growing industry and that top organizing issues are not about wages. Employees in cannabis are looking for career growth and long-term sustainability in a field they are passionate about, he said.

“A lot of people who work in these places, these are their dream jobs,” he said. “Then they get in there and really it’s just corporate cannabis. They want to stay and grow, but the way sometimes that the corporate part works, it grinds you down.

“With a good union contract, you can see a career, a path to learn and grow. That’s why we are involved and have apprentice programs. These are career paths for people.”

Unionization in cannabis could help legitimize the industry, claims Thompson. There is still a stigma around the industry that is slowly disappearing, and with UFCW attached to dispensary work, it could help speed up the process.

“I think it really helps with the public perception,” said Thompson. “These are legitimate jobs and legitimate places to work. We spoke at a lot of town halls and when you get up there as a union rep and talk about good paying jobs and careers, that carries a little more weight than someone who just likes to smoke and wants [cannabis] in the town.”

Acreage Holdings did not respond to requests for comment by publication. Thompson says working relations with the company are good and it has committed to bargaining a fair contract. Acreage’s New Jersey General Manager Brian Sickora did appear at Monday’s New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission to detail the company’s plan for adult use sales.

Union representatives are expected to negotiate terms for the first contract once certification of the agreement is in place. Dispensary jobs in the state are already in high demand, with a quick search for job openings at The Botanist yielding only one cultivation position advertised.

“This new partnership is a win for all involved,” said Local 152 President Brian String in a press release. “These workers will be able to decide on the terms of their employment and The Botanist will maintain a dedicated and knowledgeable staff.”