Welcome to the first installment of Humboldt Homegrown, a new cannabis column from the heart of the Emerald Triangle by veteran local reporter Kym Kemp.
Is there unchecked sexual abuse, rape and even sexual trafficking on marijuana farms in the Emerald Triangle? One recent nationally published article reprinted widely under various titles (including Hidden Horrors on the Pot Farms of California) dug into these issues and received a lot of attention. Several follow up articles described the marijuana industry as “riddled with abuse” and sexual misconduct as being “rampant” among growers.
At first, farmers in the Triangle where much of the article takes place, reacted with disbelief. While condemning sexual violence, many expressed a belief that the abuse seen in their area was found in similar proportions across society and was an expression of a wider problem.
“If this was at Harvard, it would be called rape culture and white privilege. But because it is happening here, they want to call it cannabis culture?” questioned Kristin Nevedal, a resident of Humboldt County and director of Patient Focused Certification, a project of Americans for Safe Access. “When in a position of power, people feel entitled to do and have whatever they want. Even if it is against the law, no one is going to call them out on it.”
“I have met more sexual predators in the restaurant industry than anywhere, and I have only been hit on once at a [marijuana] farm,” argued one female trimmer.
Another trimmer from a local family noted that her experience on marijuana farms mostly included, “Good music, good company, good laughs, plenty of coffee, [and] nice ‘parties’ for everyone’s dogs.”
Many legal medical marijuana growers echoed in one form or another, a statement in a letter to the editor by Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association: “Rape and exploitation are not our culture. This is about criminals exploiting the failed policies that we are working so hard to overcome.”
But the article had Allen, as well as many growers and trimmers, questioning whether there was more they could do to address the problem.
The conversation started by the article led to more stories working their way to the light. Some seem relatively consensual, if definitely unacceptable, in the modern workplace. One marijuana broker told us that a Humboldt County grower hired his wife and several friends to trim cannabis. Eventually, the grower offered the women money for working topless while wearing “headbands and skirts” made out of marijuana stems and leaves.
“The girls that were involved didn’t think it was any big deal,” the broker said. “It was all fun and games. For my wife though, it was weird. And I thought it was disrespectful, so we left.”
Other stories were frightening. A former woman grower related her experience on a marijuana farm she was tending for a percentage of the harvest.
“The person I was working for came out buck-ass naked,” she said. “He ‘playfully’ shouldered a rifle and pointed at me and invited me inside.”
Terrified, the woman ran to the neighbors and refused to go back.
“I had to fight for months to get paid,” she said. She didn’t go to law enforcement or even tell most of the people she knew. “As an underling in the industry you got to keep your mouth shut about a lot of stuff.”
That exposé “has really sparked a conversation,” said Steve Dillon, executive manager of the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild. However, he said that the consensus among the growers—both female and male—that he knows is the problem isn’t “rampant” within the industry. He explained that as a single male grower with years of experience, he was careful to avoid even the appearance of problems.
“We’ve got a couple months of work, and we don’t have time for that stuff,” Dillon explained. “Don’t sleep with a trimmer; it is the worse thing you can do for your trim environment.”
In addition, he said, any sort of sexual abuse “would be grounds for immediate expulsion” from his guild. In fact, he said, this year they’ve hired a consultant from the California Employer Advisory Council to make sure guidelines are created to help their members treat their workers appropriately in every way, from creating safe working conditions to avoiding sexual harassment issues.
The woman grower whose horrific story is told above points out that those with local ties to the community are safer than those who wander through.
She explained that “there was no one looking out for me…I was on my own” when she came to the Triangle seeking work. She said if she were a local trimmer with a dad “around the corner with an arsenal,” predators, including her former boss, would not have been as likely to seek her out.
According to Brad Burns, a small Southern Humboldt grower, the marijuana industry is mostly safe. He thinks that the proportion of abuse is similar to that found throughout society.
However, Burns does state, those growers “doing the harassment are a little more insulated by the clandestine nature of the business, and their victims have fewer options to fight back.”
Stay Safe When Traveling to Trim Weed:
- Never go to a remote location with a stranger, even if promised lucrative work.
- Take photos of all your traveling companions or employers and text or email them to a trusted friend.
- Share your location and the names of your traveling companions or employers with family or friends whenever possible.
- Carry bear mace or pepper spray just in case you need to defend yourself against unwanted advances.
- Avoid traveling to trim scenes alone and use the buddy system.
- Always have a personal vehicle or escape route, especially when visiting places without reliable cell service.
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