Long Island Labor Leader Supports Marijuana Reform Now

By John Durso | June 17, 2019

As President of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW and the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, you might be surprised to hear about the labor movement’s vested interest in cannabis policy. Local 338 represents 13,000 workers in a number of different industries, including retail drug stores and pharmacies, supermarkets and grocery stores, assisted living facilities, and non-profit organizations throughout New York and New Jersey. And as a result of our efforts in 2014 to help craft New York’s medical cannabis program, we also proudly represent the men and women currently working in all aspects of the State’s medical cannabis industry.

When we became involved in that fight, we were adamant in fighting to ensure that employees of the new businesses were guaranteed wage protections, paid time off, as well as quality and affordable healthcare, amongst other vital job protections and benefits. As a result, we have helped create opportunities for long-term careers that support workers and their families throughout the State, including here on Long Island.

Five years later, we’re still fighting the good fight for comprehensive cannabis reform. Because of a vocal minority and decades of stigma, there is a widespread view that anything to do with cannabis is controversial, particularly here on Long Island. But when you look at the facts and not the fear-mongering, it’s pretty simple.

First, I think we can all agree updating our antiquated drug policy laws will help end decades of racially biased enforcement and help foster real economic opportunity. We need to let men and women with low-level drug violations finally move past small infractions from their past. The fact that you “smoked a joint” as a teen shouldn’t prevent you from getting a job and providing for your family. It’s ridiculous and must stop.

We also need to expand access to medical cannabis. While the program has helped thousands of New Yorkers, for many, it’s still too hard to get it, and it’s too expensive to buy. More people who are suffering need to be able to get easy access to medicine. What zip code you live in shouldn’t determine what medicine you can get. Why is it a requirement that a patient initially pay the state a fee in order to register for a program that can better manage their illnesses and chronic pain? That cost has proven to be a significant barrier to entry for too many New Yorkers.

Still, I’m not going to tell you reforming cannabis policy is easy. We’re working with advocates to enact an ambitious plan that also happens to be long overdue. And yes, we are proud to have partnered with Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to create the medical cannabis program. But now we need to recognize more can be done to help patients and positively alter the trajectory of thousands of lives in communities that have faced decades of injustice.

For years, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW has worked with policy makers in Albany to put New York on the forefront of protecting workers rights. Whether it’s retail, healthcare or a cannabis cultivation and processing center, employees need a safe working environment. Now we have broadened our focus. We can finally help to end years of minority communities being burdened by unfair drug-enforcement, create new economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and workers alike, and get real relief to patients and families who need it.

Like I said, when you look at the facts, it doesn’t seem too controversial at all.


John Durso is President of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW and the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO