A newly enshrined ordinance in Seattle will give cannabis dispensary workers in the city stronger labor protections, part of an ongoing effort by leaders to make the marijuana industry more equitable. 

The ordinance, which took effect last Wednesday, requires covered outgoing cannabis business employers to post “written notice of a change in control” and provide “a preferential hiring list to the incoming cannabis employer,” while also requiring the incoming employer to retain “covered employees for a certain period of time following the change” and follow “other hiring and retention requirements.” 

Steven Marchese, the director of Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards, said that his office “is committed to providing outreach, education, and enforcement for Seattle’s newest labor standard.” 

Marchese said that the new law, known as the Cannabis Employee Job Retention Ordinance, “provides protections for workers in this industry that will help provide a stable workplace, stronger workforce, and contribute to a better overall economy for Seattle.”

Cody Funderburk, a local cannabis activist who works in the cannabis industry and is a former member of a local cannabis union, called the Cannabis Employee Job Retention Ordinance “a monumental step toward protecting the rights of cannabis industry employees.”

“The effects of this legislation will improve job security for thousands of employees in Washington State’s cannabis industry. Workers deserve the peace of mind of knowing that their livelihoods will be safe as the cannabis industry continues to rapidly shift and evolve,” Funderburk said in a statement.

A press release from the Office of Labor Standards said that the new ordinance reflects the commitment from the city of Seattle and its mayor, Bruce Harrell, “to improve equitable outcomes in the cannabis industry and clarify matters raised in the ordinance, including provisions related to preferential hiring, offer of employment, and discharge from employment for just cause.”

Last summer, Harrell introduced a trio of bills to the Seattle city council aimed at promoting diversity in the local cannabis industry.

The three bills sought to require the following, per a press release from Harrell’s office at the time: “Creation of a City-level social equity license, intended to reduce barriers toward opening cannabis stores for underrepresented communities and those most impacted by the war on drugs; Laying the groundwork for future cannabis-related businesses, in collaboration with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, to also issue licenses through a social equity framework; Ensuring transparency to employees around ownership of cannabis store business licenses holders; Requiring a 90-day retention of store workforce when ownership changes, similar to protections created for hotel workers in 2019; Creation of a short-term cannabis advisory committee, selected in collaboration with City Council to collect input on cannabis equity and needs from workers, community members, and industry leaders; Implementation of a needs assessment to understand additional steps to make the industry more robust and sustainable for diverse communities; Collaboration with County and community efforts to further the work of expunging convictions for cannabis-related crimes prior to 2014; Development of a state and federal legislative agenda promoting cannabis equity, as well as safety improvements, capital investments, and access to banking services.”

Harrell said that the proposals were designed to help the city’s cannabis industry continue to evolve.

“As the cannabis industry continues to develop, we must course correct and support the communities who too often have been left behind. Equity in this industry means safe working conditions and fair treatment for workers, store ownership that includes the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, and a commitment to fairness, innovation, and opportunity,” Harrell said.

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