Union Gripe Brings Federal Labor Agency Into Marijuana Debate For First Time

MAINE:  The federal government’s latest mixed signal on pot stems from Maine, where a medical marijuana dispensary has settled charges alleging violations of the National Labor Relations Act and the rights of its employees.

The National Labor Relations Board agreed to hear claims of union-busting at the Wellness Connection of Maine, and although the case was settled first, the board’s willingness to hear it was yet another tacit acknowledgement of the industry’s legitimacy. Although the federal government considers pot illegal, whether for recreational or medical use, new state laws legalizing it have forced federal authorities to address a variety of conflicts. Notably, the Justice Department has agreed to help banks — barred by money laundering statutes from working with drug dealers — find a way to do business with marijuana merchants in Colorado and Washington.

“The conflict is federal labor law, which has a broad definition of employees, and we have to accommodate that with federal criminal law, which makes working with marijuana a crime,” said Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a professor of labor and employment law at Indiana University. “That is some recognition that federal law may give these employees rights even though federal law may also say what they’re doing is illegal.”

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