Business & Economy

Why the Teamsters changed their stance on legalizing pot in California

A marijuana plant is displayed during the 2016 Cannabis Business Summit & Expo in Oakland, Calif.
A marijuana plant is displayed during the 2016 Cannabis Business Summit & Expo in Oakland, Calif.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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This fall, California voters will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Law enforcement groups have donated most of the money to defeat the measure, Proposition 64. Another group that’s contributed to the anti campaign is less expected: The California Teamsters.

Campaign records show that the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, which represents 250,000 members, donated $25,000 in March to the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, a group lobbying against Prop. 64. It was a relatively large amount for the opposition side, which has been vastly outspent by proponents of legalization. 

However, the California Teamsters have since had a change of heart, according to their chief lobbyist, Barry Broad.

"We're neutral," said Broad. “We’re not going to tell our members how to vote, and we’re not going to contribute money to either campaign.”

To find out more, I called Broad on his cell phone as he was driving to yoga.

"We're just very surprising, the Teamsters," said Broad. "We go to yoga." 

Broad admits the $25,000 donation the Teamsters made was surprising to many people. He says it funded polling, which as it turned out, showed strong support for the initiative.

"Our calculation was we think there's a reasonably good chance it will pass," said Broad.

Broad says the Teamsters were initially wary of the initiative because they feared it could lead to a vertically-integrated industry where one business could grow, distribute and sell pot. He says that would make the industry non-competitive, which would mean less business for the Teamsters. It could also lead to legal marijuana being diverted to the black market, as has happened in other states that have legalized.

"When it’s diverted from a legal market, it’s not going to be our people working it," said Broad. "It’s going be the underground economy."

Broad is now hopeful that if the initiative passes, he can lobby lawmakers for an independent distributor system, similar to alcohol. 

"But that would in January, which is a million years from now," Broad laughed.