Workers at a cannabis dispensary in Aberdeen voted to unionize on Wednesday, becoming the first cannabis workers in Maryland to join the Teamsters, which is the largest union in the United States.

Budtenders — the people who help customers choose their products — and shift leaders at Ascend Cannabis voted “overwhelmingly” to join the Teamsters Local 570, according to a press release.

Ascend Cannabis is a New York City-based company with retail dispensaries in seven states on the East Coast and six cultivation and processing facilities. Its Maryland locations are in Ellicott City, Aberdeen, Crofton and Laurel.

Workers at the Aberdeen location of Ascend filed to unionize in April, but they were not voluntarily recognized by the company, triggering a vote. Now the workers must wait for the National Labor Relations Board to certify the election results, after which they could begin collective bargaining and eventually secure a contract.

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Teamsters would assist Ascend’s union organizers with the bargaining process, and employees hope a contract would address wages, minimum hours, shift scheduling and workplace safety, said Sean Cedenio, secretary-treasurer of Local 570.

Ascend dispensary employees in Aberdeen are the first cannabis workers in Maryland to join the Teamsters. (Courtesy of Teamsters)

Ryan Bennett, an Ascend worker on the organizing committee, said cost of living and inflation were among the driving factors for unionizing.

In 2021, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission reported nearly $11.8 million in revenue from licensing and fees in the state.

“As the cannabis industry is growing, the people who make it grow should be able to grow with it, have good middle-class jobs, and really make a living out of it,” Bennett said.

The Ascend union in Aberdeen would join fellow Teamster cannabis unions in Boston, Chicago and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The shop in Boston voted to join Teamsters in 2022, and the Chicago and Grand Rapids workers ratified their first contracts with Ascend in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

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In Maryland, 10.7% of workers are unionized, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 11.6% in 2022. Despite a decline, that’s still slightly higher than the national average of 10%.

“We come from a really blue-collar area, and they see our struggle and it resonates with them on a personal level,” Bennett said of the customers. “I know they’ll have our back through the fight, and we just look forward to getting negotiations started in good faith.”

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