This year, the state of New Jersey has joined a growing number in expanding medical marijuana use under the direction of Governor Phil Murphy. The recent medical cannabis expansion included adding new qualifying illnesses, cutting registration and renewal fees for new and existing members, and allowing doctors the opportunity to opt-out of having their name posted in an online database.
Luckily for us, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union on an international level represents thousands of cannabis workers across multiple states. Like current UFCW Local 152 members, these workers in the cannabis industry across the country also wanted representation, and it is our mission as a labor union to set the highest standards throughout the industry and fight to make our member’s lives better. Wherever cannabis is legalized, it is our mission to build a successful industry with a thriving, diverse, and skilled workforce. Governor Phil Murphy aims to treat participants as “patients, not criminals,” and according to NJ.gov, over 25,000 people are now enrolled for medical marijuana across the Garden State as of July 2nd, 2018. With the recent expansion of qualifying diseases to New Jersey’s medical cannabis program, the demand for medical cannabis will inevitably continue to increase. On a local level, UFCW Local 152 recognizes that jobs that pay better wages and provide better benefits—like the ones we represent—are vital to keeping our economy afloat and families out of poverty. We welcome the chance to represent these new cannabis workers.
There are currently six medical cannabis dispensaries operating in the state of New Jersey. UFCW Local 152 was fortunate enough to be invited on an official tour of the first and only unionized dispensary in the state: Garden State Dispensary, located in Woodbridge, NJ, and proudly part of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. A small group from the union was able to attend the tour, including Hugh Giordano, Ed Fuller, Matte Kane, Mike Thompson, Chad Brooks and Alley Snow.
As we walked through the doors of New Jersey’s first unionized medical dispensary, the first thing noticed as a group was the professionalism of the front desk. To the left of the waiting room was a massive desk, with multiple receptionists ready and waiting to check in patients as quickly as possible. Once checked in, patients could take a seat in one of many comfortable chairs and wait their turn to be called back for their appointment by a medical professional. As our group walked further into the room, we were greeted by a retired detective who now serves as Head of Security at the dispensary. While taking turns signing in, we were then greeted by Danielle, Raj, and Aarron – the upper management of Garden State Dispensary.
Before Aarron began our official behind-the-scenes tour, he pointed out a few things that puts Garden State Dispensary above other medical cannabis dispensaries in the state. First and foremost, the dispensary takes great pride in being warm and welcoming to their patients and strives to know each of them on a personal level. Given the way we were treated upon entering, we all could tell it was true. Each patient who entered the building greeted the staff like they were good friends and seemed genuinely happy to be there. It was certainly a testament to the personal connection the employees at Garden State Dispensary have created with patients. Perhaps more importantly, Aarron wanted us to take notice of a half-dozen small rooms connected to the main waiting area. These rooms—which resembled a typical office space, with a simple desk and chairs—were created for patients to have an individual counseling session with a trained patient counselor.
Each patient has the right to speak to a “patient counselor” who is well-trained and overseen by a pharmacist and physician to verify the recommendations are counseled on a medical level. Currently in New Jersey, the doctor who authorizes a Medical Marijuana Card for a patient does not prescribe the type of cannabis that most closely aligns with the patient’s symptoms as a result of their disease. Since there is not one all-encompassing strain of medical cannabis that treats a variety of ailments, this is an extremely important task! Garden State Dispensary ensures each individual patient receives the correct medical marijuana for their condition and life needs.
As an example, say you have two women in their forties, Betty and Joan, who were both diagnosed with lung cancer. Betty is married with two children under 10 and needs to maintain her full-time job as long as possible. Joan is also married, but childless and her husband’s career means she can afford to take a leave from her job to focus on her health. While close in age, these two women lead very different lifestyles, and it would not make sense to prescribe the same medicine to both patients. The beauty of medical cannabis is the sheer amount of strains there are, all working with different purposes – which means there’s a strain to help a combination of both mental and physical ailments, for equally diverse patients.
This is why a patient counselor is important in a dispensary. In our example, Betty would want a strain of medical cannabis that would help with her disease, but still leave her with enough energy to work and play with her children. Joan, on the other hand, may prefer medicine that calmed her both mind and body all day. Having a trained professional learn about the lifestyles of patients, as well as their symptoms, wants, and needs creates a personalized, catered recommendation. As you can imagine, this is an essential medical position for new patients, and it is important to note that these types of one-on-one counseling are not available at every dispensary in the state. You can see in the picture one of many binders the dispensary keeps on hand, as an easy visual representation of the many different strains of cannabis, their THC/CBD levels, a general description of the strain, and what symptoms they treat.
Aarron began our tour inside the dispensary by opening a secure door that normally only patients or employees have the authority to enter. This new area was where patients could privately choose and purchase the medical marijuana needed for their condition. The room itself was a beautiful and open, and closely resembled an extravagant jewelry store: the warm lighting, glass cases, and spotless wood counters helped give the illusion of a very relaxed yet professional atmosphere. Inside the glass cases was the medicine for purchase, along with products used to consume the medicine. Working behind the counters, the “Bud Tender” is a professionally trained sales representative who can explain each strain of medical marijuana and help the patient understand how it will feel both physically and mentally. In addition to this counseling, the Bud Tender also handles all the physical transactions of medicine and all purchases between the patients and dispensary. Aarron explained to us that the dispensary prefers to limit the number of patients in the room for privacy reasons. The Bud Tenders made sure the environment was clean, relaxing and welcoming to the patients.
From this room, we walked into the main area of the warehouse, where employees—fellow UFCW members—were bustling about their work. Aarron informed us that most of the members in the room were Rutgers University graduates with degrees in horticulture or biology. These employees of Garden State Dispensary are highly trained individuals; Aarron and his fellow upper management wanted only the best for their dispensary.
After our brief encounter with UFCW members, we were then taken to the Grow Room, where—you guessed it—the medical marijuana is grown. Before entering, we were each instructed to walk under a decontamination mist to prevent any forms of bacteria or viruses from entering the area, and to kill any bugs we may have inadvertently brought inside. We also had to wear shoe covers in an attempt to not track anything into the area where the medicine is grown.
Walking into the Grow Room was overwhelming. There were hundreds of unmatured plants at various stages of growth, ranging from smaller six-inch plants to larger three-foot plants, neatly lined on various tables and rooms by size, strain, and development. The room was brightly lit and organized so that workers could easily walk around the room and analyze each individual plant. Each plant was properly categorized, numbered, and registered with the State of New Jersey to make sure quality standards were followed for the protection of patients. Aarron explained that all plants in the facility were grown without the use of pesticides; additionally, they use all-natural methods to grow and protect the medical marijuana plants as they go through their growth cycle. The dispensary chooses to use coconut husk to replace the need for soil, and even occasionally release “good bugs,” or bugs that act as a natural pest deterrent.
From the Grow Room, we were taken to a secondary room with mature plants nearly ready for harvest. Outside the doors of this room, we were each given personal flashlights with green bulbs instead of the typical white bulbs, because the secondary grow room was in total darkness! Because these plants naturally flower in the fall season, the dispensary has designated a large room to house the mature plants and scheduled a timed period of complete darkness. This timed dark-to-light ratio mimics the earth’s natural sunlight decline in autumn. Therefore, it tricks the plant into thinking it is fall regardless of the actual time of year, encouraging growth of the flower/bud. If we used regular flashlights with their bright white bulbs, we would run the risk of shocking the plants into not flowering, and thus not producing medicine.
The plants in this room were very large and meticulously groomed. Aarron pointed out small details of the plants, which indicated their individual health, a crucial skill for the workers entrusted with maintaining the health of the plant.
The next room was the “cure room,” which was basically a large storage room where trimmers cut the medicine from the plant to hang and dry out until it can eventually be used as medicine. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot just pick the medicine off the plant and use it; in fact, it takes weeks to properly dry out the plant before final trimming and packaging. Once it is properly cured, it is taken by the trimmers and professionally groomed for packaging and sale.
Our tour of the Garden State Dispensary was truly a one-of-a-kind experience, and we felt privileged to be able to tour a dispensary in the dawn of the medical marijuana industry in our state. As a group, we continuously circled back to our biggest takeaway of the tour: the sheer professionalism of the entire dispensary, workers, and upper management. From start to finish, we were blown away by the level of detail and knowledge of workers and management alike; it was abundantly clear to us that they considered every aspect for future and returning patients.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, especially UFCW Local 152, is proud to stand by the workers in the medical marijuana industry and believe they deserve guaranteed wages, benefits, and safe/fair working conditions on the job. The process from seed to sale takes months of hard work, dedication, and science-based professionalism. The unionized workers at the Garden State Dispensary are without a doubt the most professional and caring UFCW members we have in the country. They take their profession very seriously because they know New Jersey medical marijuana patients depend on them and the medicine they grow.
Stay up to date on the changes to the medical and recreational cannabis laws in our area by visiting our Cannabis Campaign page.
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