The Unexpected Opponent to California's Marijuana Legalization Measure

May 23rd 2016

California voters will have the chance to legalize recreational marijuana this year, but an unexpected group is being accused of trying to stand in the way.

marijuana-budsFlickr/Dank Depot - flickr.com

The California branch of the Teamsters union, which represents 1.4 million members primarily in truck driving and warehouse services, is donating to a lobbying fund aimed at defeating the legal weed proposal.

Teamsters donated $25,000 to the anti-legalization group Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies in March, campaign finance records show.

campaign financeCalifornia Secretary of State - ca.gov

Other donors to the fund are less surprising: police unions and a private prison association are also pulling their resources to derail the recreational marijuana ballot, The Intercept reports. (ATTN: has previously reported on the possible motivations driving these legalization opponents.) But the Teamsters union, one of the largest labor unions in the U.S., hasn't expressed public opposition to marijuana legalization efforts in the past.

California Teamsters lobbyist Barry Broad told ATTN: that the group hasn't taken a position on the initiative but has "serious concerns" with the language of the bill.

TeamstersWikimedia - wikimedia.org

"We are concerned primarily about the parts [of the legalization measure] related to distribution and transportation, the core of our membership," Broad said. "We're opposed to vertical integration in the industry. We support an independent distribution model."

Essentially, Teamsters' leadership is pushing for marijuana to follow alcohol's distribution model, which would financially benefit its members.

Alcohol sales are regulated according to a "three-tier" system that involves producers, distributors, and retailers. In the U.S., alcohol producers must sell their products to wholesale distributors, which then sell to licensed retailers. This system was devised after the end of prohibition in America as a way to effectively regulate and tax alcohol sales; it also serves the interests of Teamsters members, many of whom work in the distribution sector of the alcohol industry as truck drivers or warehouse employees.

truck driverWikimedia - wikimedia.org

Because the California recreational marijuana system wouldn't operate on a three-tier system, the Teamsters union risks losing out on employment opportunities in the booming industry. Instead, the bill allows marijuana cultivators that "operate on an area less than 10,000 square feet" to function as licensed distributors for their products.

Asked why California Teamsters contributed $25,000 to an anti-legalization coalition in March, Broad said the contribution was meant to support polling of California voters.

"It went to polling because we wanted to find out what voters were thinking about the issue. That's what it went to. We haven't done anything since — and that was really at the very outset of this. Where we go — I mean, we may oppose it, or we may not oppose it, but we haven't made that decision yet."

Here's what the ballot initiative is all about.

californiaWikimedia - wikimedia.org

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act is a California ballot initiative that will effectively legalize recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 or older if voters approve the measure in November. The group behind the initiative, Let's Get It Right, California, collected almost double the 365,000 signatures required to get the measure on the ballot, and polls show that the measure has up to 60 percent support.

RELATED: Meet the Five Biggest Enemies of Marijuana Legalization

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