While there are a number of cannabis farms that are ethically sourced and cultivated, that isn’t the case for all. Illegal cultivation, forced labor, and human trafficking are all unethical practices that continue to take place on certain farms to this today.
Just last year, The Associated Press reported on a ranch in Southern Oregon that was involved in unethical practices. According to local police, ranchers would threaten workers’ families if they refused to go with them. The workers lived in horrible conditions, too. Still, they denied that they had been trafficked. They also refused victim services from the Department of Homeland Security.
Oftentimes “trimmigrants,” people who immigrate to cannabis farms for harvest season, are simply looking for work during the summer. Unfortunately, in some areas, it’s a much more dangerous job.
In 2016, Reveal published a story covering abuse and trafficking in the Emerald Triangle, a region in Northern California known for producing the most cannabis in the nation, and likely the world. The story covered the experiences of young women working on cannabis farms. Historically, the cannabis industry has been a hostile place for women. Reveal’s report detailed narratives of sexual abuse and exploitation faced by young women working on cannabis farms
Unethical cannabis farming isn’t specific to the United States, either. In 2019, The Guardian published an article about children being trafficked to the UK and forced to grow cannabis. According to the article, hundreds of children are trafficked every year from Vietnam to the UK to work on illegal cannabis farms.
Many workers leave their homes with the idea of earning enough money to provide for their families, too. Sadly, in some cases, their plans take a turn for the worst. A recent study published in the Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing asked whether police could identify modern slavery among arrested cannabis growers in the UK. Police interviewed three arrested cannabis workers, all of whom had been trafficked and subjected to threats and violence.
Each of the workers had good intentions of wanting to prosper in a different environment, but all three men ended up victims of debt bondage, also known as debt slavery. The first man went into debt to escape political retaliation in Vietnam. But, the smuggler he paid to help him escape forced him to work on a cannabis farm as a way to pay off his debt. The other two men found themselves in a similar situation, only they had paid smugglers to take them to the UK in the hopes of improving their economic situations. Like the first man, they were forced to work on a cannabis farm to pay back the money they owed.
The study ends with an interesting afterword, and something to think about when it comes to victims of forced labor and human trafficking: “An observer has an impression of the individual, yet not the entire human―perhaps emblematic of the current state of modern slavery in the UK with so much still to be learned.”
If you’re looking for a more visual representation of how dangerous unethical cannabis farming can be, the true-crime documentary series Murder Mountain does a good job. It covers the story of Garret Rodriguez, a cannabis farmer in Northern California’s Humboldt County who mysteriously went missing in 2013.
At times, it can be hard to learn about what happens on some of these farms. Hopefully, with more states legalizing recreational cannabis use, unethical practices will diminish, clearing the way for legally regulated and ethical cannabis farming.