Nation's First Unionized Pot Farm Goes Bust, Oakland Loses Bid to Be Cannabis Capital

Last year, prior to the defeat of California’s Proposition 19, it appeared as though unions had a budding new industry in which they could grow their memberships.


First, the United Food & Commercial Workers jumped onto the cannabis bandwagon. Then, the Teamsters waded into the weed growing business when Jimmy Hoffa’s union unionized 40 pot growers in Oakland, California.

Pretty soon, all of the unions (it seemed) had gone gonzo for the ganja, endorsing the initiative to legalize pot—Prop 19.

Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, essentially endorsed Proposition 19, as did the National Black Police Association and the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and the Longshoremen.

Even the purple people eaters, the SEIU (who would potentially benefit by unionizing fast food chains) endorsed the measure:

Take your mouth off the bong and cheer, you legal pot advocates, because this is a good score: One of the state’s biggest and most powerful unions, the Service Employees International Union, has endorsed Proposition 19, the November ballot initiative that would legalize pot and its cultivation and distribution.

Noting then, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that one of the easiest ways to win the war on drugs would be to unionize the drug industry, it wasn’t realized just how quickly the seeds planted would bear fruit.


Barely six months after Prop 19 went up in smoke, the Teamsters-represented Oakland pot farm has gone belly up.

As noted in the New York Times, Yan Ebyam [his first name stands for “yes and no” and his last name is “maybe” spelled backwards...a clue perhaps?] bet the farm (so to speak) on the passage of Prop 19 and lost.

Established trucking, plumbing and construction companies, scrambling for work in a down economy, opened their doors to Mr. Ebyam’s cannabis farms, thought to be the largest in the city. His workers, mostly the bud-trimmers who assure the highest-quality medical marijuana, were organized by the Teamsters.

But the failure of the statewide marijuana legalization initiative last fall, and subsequent threats from federal prosecutors, derailed the ambitious plan of city leaders to license four giant farms and thus make Oakland the legal cannabis capital of the country. And with the collapse of Oakland’s vision of marijuana supremacy came disaster for Mr. Ebyam.

Mr. Ebyam is now locked in litigation over the $1.25 million sale of one of his growing operations, and another installation has been decimated by a string of suspicious burglaries — a fitting symbol, perhaps, of an industry that could have been.


So, what of the Teamster members? Well, although the Teamsters just unionized pot workers in Michigan, it appears the Oakland members won’t be collecting that fattie of a Teamster pension:

It was the first grow operation in the country to be unionized, by the Teamsters, who won pensions, health care and a $25-an-hour wage for 40 workers. Lou Marchetti, the boss of Teamsters Local 70, was interviewed live on ABC, and an amused news anchor chuckled about the “marijuana farmers union.”

Not to mix metaphors, but knowing what happened to the unionized steel, textile and trucking industries, it should be all too easy to say: Friends don’t let friends unionize under the influence.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776


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