As more women are drawn to Humboldt County’s marijuana trade and off-grid lifestyle, a local battered-women’s shelter has noticed a growing trend of violent encounters. The Standard-Examiner reports that, “The bulk of… cases involve single young women aged 18 to 26, who may travel to the area and are lured to farms by promises of work, money and, often, romance. The women are hired for trim work, which involves cleaning freshly harvested pot and preparing it for sale.” Most women who survive violence are hesitant to seek help in general. The women in the pot-growing business however, are under even more pressure to keep quiet because they are part of a culture that promotes secrecy.
There is no doubt the pot-growing industry supports the local economy by pumping much-needed cash into the community. The problem is however, that because farm owners and managers (most of whom are male) are running illegal operations under federal law, standard employment regulations such as working conditions and sexual harassment laws do not apply. The Director of W.I.S.H (Women’s Crisis Center of Southern Humboldt), points out that, “Men managing the farms can be paranoid over the threat of raids or people stealing the plants. Women’s cell phones may be taken away and they may not be allowed to leave until season’s end. Some are forced off farms at gunpoint without being paid. Women may be beaten or psychologically controlled…”.
The cycle of violence is perpetuated by an underground, black market economy. This is just one more reason marijuana needs to be legalized and regulated. Moving the entire marijuana industry above ground will protect workers’ rights, hold employers accountable, and remove the culture of secrecy that continues to foster female exploitation.