Dragonfly Wellness becomes Utah’s first unionized cannabis dispensary

Employees said they want their compensation to match the value they bring to the company and to the industry at large.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dragonfly Wellness, Utah's first cannabis pharmacy, is also the first unionized dispensary in the state. Workers voted to join a union Sept. 27.

Utah’s first medical cannabis dispensary is now also the first dispensary with a unionized workforce.

Dragonfly Wellness Cannabis Dispensary employees last week voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 99. Thirty of the dispensary’s roughly 36 employees, including wellness associations, drivers, pharmacists, and inventory specialists, are now represented by UFCW.

“We know that we bring value to the company,” said Barry Follmer, a wellness associate and union organizer. “We feel our compensation, benefits, our PTO … should reflect that. We bring a lot of knowledge, experience, care and kindness to this profession.”

Dragonfly employees started organizing in July, they said, and moved quickly once they connected with UFCW. They filed for an election in August and voted Wednesday.

Follmer said there was already a prevailing feeling among staff that they “need to make a change, … needed to come together and do something to take back our rights at work.”

He and other workers said that, despite efforts from Dragonfly management to dissuade them — Dragonfly hired Crossroads Group, according to UFCW, which workers understood to be a “renowned” union-busting firm — employees stuck together and voted 19-4 in favor of unionizing.

Utah has a “right-to-work” law, meaning a business cannot deny employment to anyone based on whether or not they belong to a labor union or other association.

Dragonfly management did not immediately respond to The Tribune’s request for comment. Crossroads Group, which UFCW claims management hired to tamper union efforts, has been charged by the National Labor Relations Board before for coercive statements related to union organizing.

Dragonfly’s website says the dispensary is community-focused, built on a “strong bond with patients and staff.”

Dragonfly’s CEO, Hoang Nguyen, is co-founder of Sapa Investment Group, which also develops real estate and owns several restaurants. She is running for a seat in Utah’s House of Representatives, in District 23, which spans from Salt Lake City’s 900 East through Emigration and Parleys canyons to Summit Park. Nguyen is a Democrat, as is the district’s current representative, Brian S. King.

The vote makes Dragonfly employees the first cannabis workers in the state to be represented by a union. UFCW represents cannabis workers in other states, including in Arizona, where Curaleaf Dispensary employees went on strike Sept. 15.

Cannabis is a rapidly growing and evolving industry, said UFCW spokesperson Drake Ridge, and one of the functions of a union is to protect workers from volatility.

Utah only allows medicinal cannabis use — patients must have a prescription and medical card — so the state has not seen the same rapid growth as neighboring states Arizona or New Mexico. Ridge said such growth in other states has pushed out “mom and pop” dispensaries in favor of chains and corporations.

But such a change could still happen in Utah, Ridge said, and industry workers should be prepared.

Medical marijuana sales have climbed steadily since 2020, according to state data.

Dragonfly opened in March 2020 as the first of 15 marijuana pharmacies in Utah, according to the state’s database. It grows its own product.

“Workers are seeing profits being made, but not feeling it in their paychecks,” Ridge said. “Part of this is to ensure the workers that are making the industry thrive, that are building direct relationships with patients and giving them the medicine they need to get through the day, are seeing their fair share of the profits.”

Employees who spoke to The Tribune said they “genuinely love” Dragonfly and want to see it thrive — which is why they formed a union. What makes Dragonfly special is its people, they said, and they hope UFCW representation can uplift Dragonfly’s team as a whole.

“We see each other more than we see our families, honestly,” said floor lead Sharyn Leonard. “A lot of people see that as a problem, but I happen to truly enjoy the people I work with.”

“When I started [at Dragonfly], I knew the group I was working with was special,” said Adriana Cahua, a wellness associate. “We can’t thrive unless Dragonfly thrives.”

“We’re here to make their business awesome,” Follmer echoed. “I’m not trying to tear down a business that I want to work for.”

Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.