ST. PAUL - The union that represents thousands of Minnesota food workers is celebrating its newest members - the state’s medical marijuana workers.

Employees at Otsego-based Minnesota Medical Solutions have ratified a contract under the auspices of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1189, best known for representing supermarket employees and food processing workers, the union said.

“We’re pretty excited about it because we think the industry is going to develop,” union spokesman Bernie Hesse said. “As patients sign up and get registered, we think the patient population will grow in Minnesota, in terms of different illnesses or conditions that can be treated using cannabis-based medicine.”

Minnesota’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries are scheduled to start opening in July, and the union will represent workers at four, Hesse said.

The union still is discussing representing the workers at the other four planned dispensaries, which are owned by Cottage Grove, Minn.-based LeafLine Labs.

The union has organized cannabis workers in other states, including California, Colorado and Washington. That prompted the UFCW locally to join the lobbying effort at the Minnesota Legislature, which last year changed the law to allow medicinal marijuana.

Hesse said the union will represent cannabis workers involved across the production chain.

“It’ll be the people who are involved in the basic horticulture, the harvesting of the product, the extraction and then the distribution and the retail end,” he said. “We won’t be representing the pharmacists that will be working at those places.”

What excites the union, Hesse said, is the potential to get in early on what could be a fast-growing business.

While the initial forecast was for perhaps 5,000 patients, Hesse said, “it might be closer to 10,000 or 15,000. … There’s a ratio of jobs-to-patients, about a 10-to-1 ratio. … So potentially if there’s 10,000 patients, that could translate into 1,000 jobs, and that’s along the whole supply chain.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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