Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Report Finds Dozens of Women Abused at No. Cal. Marijuana Farms

Today I stumbled across this awful, yet not-so-surprising investigative report that details how dozens of women, and likely more, are sexually abused on pot farms in the Emerald Triangle:
“Women believe they are getting hired for trimming work, and then they’re drugged and raped,” said Maryann Hayes Mariani, a coordinator for the North Coast Rape Crisis Team. “Everybody looks at (the region) like it’s the Land of Oz. I’m just so tired of pretending like it’s not happening here.”
Like most other industries, institutions, and organizations in the twenty-first century, the marijuana industry is plagued by sexism and sexual exploitation. Despite the growing number of women  working in legal weed, the majority of growers, drug policy reformers, and business owners are men, setting up an unequal power balance in which women can be harassed and abused without punishment for the harassers and abusers.

Even the act of pot farming itself relies on female exploitation: only female cannabis plants produce marijuana, and once they are pollinated, the flowers cease producing psychoactive resin. Thus, the goal of marijuana cultivation is essentially to isolate and sexually starve the female plants, so they keep coating their flowers with resin until they expire.

There is a sad irony in the fact that female bud trimmers are taken advantage of sexually in the same space where female cannabis plants are sexually starved - both women and female plants are manipulated to please male growers.

Abuse Under the Trees

Of course, since plants aren't people, only the women are victims. And per the Reveal investigation, just as the remote wilderness of northern California makes it very difficult for authorities to find illegal pot grows, it also makes it difficult for those same authorities to confirm women's stories of sexual exploitation. For that reason, many women decline to report their horrible experiences to the police. Disturbingly, still others never show up again:
"The number of trimmigrants who go missing alone is overwhelming for law enforcement, fueling an epidemic of the lost. In 2015, Humboldt County reported 352 missing people, more per capita than any other county in the state."
The secretive environment in which all northern California pot growers operate has also given rise to an underground sex trade, in which young women post advertisements online claiming to be "trimmers," then sell themselves to lonely male growers in the hills. Pimps also run rings on the north coast, bringing a parallel tier of female exploitation to the area. Prostitution can bring these women as much as $500 an hour - far more than they would make simply trimming.

So to recap: we have dozens of women who are sexually abused and exploited in their positions as seasonal weed trimmers; men who are on dangerous power trips as the heads of the region's most lucrative industry; a lack of willingness and ability on behalf of law enforcement to find and punish abusers; and an online escort business that feeds into male growers' fantasies of having powerless, sexually available women around them for the right price - whether they're paying them for "work" or explicitly for sex.

Will Legalization Help?

The theme running through all of these events is the remote and quasi-lawless environment of northern California - a continuity that has existed since the beginning of white American settlement in the area, through alcohol prohibition and the twentieth-century logging industry, all the way to the present marijuana scene. Indeed, the area's remoteness and secretive culture are the main reasons why the Reveal piece is not optimistic that California's recent vote to legalize pot will help the situation.

But I'm not so sure that legalization can't at least provide opportunities to stop these abuses. For one thing, legalization is bound to make the culture surrounding marijuana cultivation far less secretive, even in remote places. For another, an ideal legalization rollout would include resource packages and a firm directive to local law enforcement to deal with sexual predation, prostitution, and other black-market problems in the marijuana industry. The state could fund this by earmarking a certain amount of legal marijuana sales taxes for law enforcement and drug treatment programs, like Colorado does.

Of course, since rape victims are also routinely mistreated and disrespected by law enforcement, there is no guarantee that any of this offers a permanent solution. After reading about the awful experiences of these women in northern California, however, I guess I'd just prefer to hope.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sessions confirmed as AG - Should Legal Weed be Worried?

It is official: Jeff Sessions, the man with a proven record of opposition to black people voting, is the new US Attorney General.

The ascension of a classic, George Wallace-type Southern racist to the nation's highest law enforcement position does not bode well for American civil rights in general, but his harsh positions on race, drugs, and crime make him a natural opponent of legal marijuana industries operating in several states. Since Sessions has not yet made it clear whether marijuana will be a priority for his Justice Department, that is all that we can be sure of at the moment.

Yet, as "Radical Russ" over at the blog Weed News pointed out back in January, there are still plenty of good reasons for the legal weed industry to be scared of a Sessions-led JD. The quintessential prohibitionist, Sessions has said that "good people don't smoke marijuana," and he was once overheard saying (he says he was joking) that he thought some members of the KKK were okay, until he found out they smoked pot.

But, as Russ points out, the most concrete reason for worry in the weed industry might not be Sessions but the President:
"... let’s pretend Trumplethinskin really believes in the sovereignty of the states in matters of marijuana policy. Which states will he lean toward, the legal marijuana states which, all but Alaska, voted for Hillary – and their states’ rights to sell marijuana in stores? Or the prohibition states that make up his base and their states’ right to not have legal marijuana flowing across their borders?"
This kind of childish political retribution seems to be well within the realm of Donald Trump's cavalcade of impulses. He has a penchant for staging dramatic acts of retaliation against those he feels has wronged him and he could easily have the Sessions JD drop the hammer on Left Coast marijuana as punishment for all the liberals who sneered and doubted him in the campaign.

Any action against legal marijuana would be a travesty. Far from simply a movement to let people smoke pot in peace, ending the War on Drugs is a Civil Rights campaign. For more than a hundred years, drugs have been an excuse for law enforcement to disproportionately stigmatize, stereotype, harass, beat, arrest, imprison, disenfranchise, shoot, and kill black, brown, and LGBT Americans.

It would also be a travesty because legalization is working. In Colorado, for instance, not only do thousands of people not get harassed and arrested over pot, but the state is collecting much-needed tax revenue, a portion of which goes to school construction; the state enforces rigorous rules on product labeling, grow site security, pesticide use, and other aspects of the industry; there is no indication of a weed-related public health crisis; and teenagers are not using marijuana at a higher rate than before legalization.

Of course, the rollout hasn't been perfect. Among other issues, minorities are still being unfairly targeted for illegal use. But this all a far cry from the days of prohibition, when simply possessing enough of the herb could land you in prison. In short, it is virtually impossible to argue that legalization has been the abject failure that so many prohibitionists assured us it would be.

While the GOP as a whole is likely to back any kind of crackdown on legalization, there is at least one Republican in Congress who will not. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, California, has just introduced a bill that would exempt consumers and businesses from federal drug laws if they are acting in accordance with state laws. Of course, the bill has no chance of passing, but I see it as an honorable effort.

Stay tuned - I may not be sure what will happen, but I am sure that this is only the tip of the Sessions blog post iceberg.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

CA Winemakers Fear Competition From Legal Pot

The wine industry in California is worried that legal marijuana is stealing its labor and its kicks, according to a report on Fortune's website.

Writer John Kell explains how the wine industry is actually "crushing it" thanks to "the coveted millenial generation," but it is worried about higher wages in the marijuana industry pulling away migrant workers and that more adults might choose to get buzzed on weed over wine. And apparently, Kell notes that this concern is backed up by some real data:

"Cowen & Co. analyst Vivien Azer issued a widely cited report late last year that said there were signs cannabis sales were hurting demand for beer across several states where marijuana was legal. Domestic big beer brands like Bud Light and Coors Light appeared to face the greatest competitive threat to cannabis, while imported beers looked the most immune."

Personally, if that data is accurate, I don't see a problem there. First, both of those giant beer companies make awful beer that no self-respecting person should buy anyway. Second, alcohol is by far a more harmful and addictive substance than pot, and it will be hard to argue that society is any worse off if more people are smoking weed instead of drinking. That said, I don't think the major beer industries need to worry about their profits - worrying that people aren't going to buy Coors Light is like worrying they won't buy Coca Cola. Even if fewer people buy, corporate beer profits are going to remain enormous.

The wine industry's concerns about labor seepage to weed farms may be legitimate, especially now that California is going to attempt full-on legalization. But the idea that winemakers will sell less product solely because of weed is, I think, a bit paranoid. It comes down to consumer choice, and the people who buy wine generally like it way too much to quit it, even if they like their weed, too. 

The race to get American brains buzzing isn't a zero-sum game. Americans have been smoking herb and drinking booze - sometimes at the same time, sometimes not - for decades. In fact, because both products tend to attract the "connoisseur," I could see wine-weed pairings happening, especially in California. Look, there's even this guide that tells you how to pair the two substances! Overall, the competition between makers of wine and weed should be more friendly than fierce.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Forbes: "Five Ways that Trump May or May Not Affect Legal Cannabis, Maybe"

The news media is normally speculative, but lately it seems like the whirlwind of what-ifs and might-bes associated with the newly inaugurated Trump administration has every reporter's head spinning. This confusion is, of course, a by-product of covering Trump himself, as he routinely backtracks and makes contradictory statements. But there's also the fact that all this juicy speculation makes for some extra-tempting click bait.

Consider this round-up of headlines from various websites, procured through a simple Google search:

"What if Trump is worse than Obama?"

"Many What-Ifs in Donald Trump’s Plan for Migrants"

And, as usual, CNN had the weirdest/most subtly violent headline, running with this on January 19:

"Assassination of Trump Would Keep Obama’s Administration in Power"

I'll leave the rest of the internet to contend with CNN's poor choice of headline and "story," but the point I'm making is that this kind of useless speculo-journalism seems to have increased as one of the most controversial presidents in history begins his first term, and no issue, not even cannabis, has escaped.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Jeff Sessions: The Man Who Liked the KKK, Until He Found Out Some of Them Smoked Pot

Jeff Sessions, next Attorney General of the Confederacy United States
President-elect Donald Trump has picked Jeff Sessions, an old racist US senator from Alabama, to be the nation's next Attorney General. Sessions defended Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the US and has been a hardliner on illegal immigration for his entire career. His actions in the legislature  suggest that he's one of many influential Republicans who believes there's a certain "good" kind of American (straight and white), and that the rest deserve as hard a time as possible because, well, that's the Southern spirit for ya.

Sessions also has the legal cannabis industry nervous, as he has generally been on the opposite side of any drug policy-reform movements. Their concerns are legitimate; after all, this is a guy who was reportedly overhead saying that he used to think some members of the KKK were OK - that is, "until he found out that some of them were 'pot smokers.'"

Could Sessions oversee the rollback of pot legalization across the country? Marijuana advocates have been here before. In the 1970s, as state after state relaxed penalties for pot possession, many in the movement developed an air of certainty about the weed's legal status. Counterculture publications such as Denver's Straight Creek Journal wrote about the subject with levity, believing that since more people - especially white people - were "getting it," the end of the Drug War was nigh.

That turned out not to be the case, as the country's political atmosphere lurched to the right during the 1980s, and the War on Drugs was turned up to an unprecedented scale. Police forces brutalized inner-city black communities using the excuse of cracking down on crack; state and federal agents fought a guerilla war against pot growers in northern California; and Wall Street cocaine users were jailed in record numbers - JUST KIDDING; they were mostly left to do their thing. Is today's legal cannabis movement, all swollen with confidence after winning over a slew of new states in the election, doomed to the accursed tides of history?

Of course, in the 1970s there wasn't an already functioning, multi-billion-dollar weed industry. Trump loves money, and he's reportedly ok with state-level legal weed; could he keep Sessions from rolling everything back? Or will Trump see more money in private prisons - an idea that Sessions also supports - filled with black and brown pot violators?

One thing's for sure: legal or illegal, people aren't going to stop growing and smoking pot. The movement will continue, even if the pendulum swings back toward prohibition. The problem is that, like it has in the past, prohibition under men like Trump and Sessions will have a disproportionate and devastating impact on the poor and communities of color. That, and not the billions of dollars in legal weed on the line, would be the most awful thing about potential de-legalization.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Hempiricist's Return: Americans Legalize Marijuana, Bigotry

What a day to return to blogging.

I'm sure nobody noticed, but I've been away from this site for more than a year now, trying to get the second draft of my book done. It is finally done, and I can finally give this blog the attention it's been craving. A lot has changed since my last post, namely:

-I had a child;

-The Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and

-Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

The first event is the best thing that ever happened to me, the second is a sure sign of the Apocalypse, and the third is confirmation that the second thing was a sure sign of the Apocalypse.

Perhaps God knows that the world will end soon and is at least allowing us to go out smoking a ton of legal reefers - last night (and this morning), voters in California, Nevada, and Massachusetts approved the legalization of recreational pot. But it wasn't just those blue states that went green - Florida, North Dakota, Arkansas, and Montana, all of which went to Trump, approved medical marijuana. 

What does this mean? We know that under President Obama, legal weed was generally left free to proceed - see the Cole Memorandum. Will Trump rescind that? He's said that he thinks marijuana should be a "state-by-state" issue, but given how many times he's gone back and forth on many issues during the campaign, that really doesn't tell us much. He's also said he wants to bring "law and order" back to the streets, a phrase that echoes the conservative mantra during the heyday of the war on drugs.

Quite frankly, given what Trump and his movement represents, we're probably looking at an increase in both police brutality and harassment, especially in neighborhoods of color. Trump has not spoken kindly about people living in those places, and they would certainly bear the brunt of any attempt to "get tough" on crime and drugs.

But that's still only what is likely to happen. As this election showed, we don't really know jack. Just have to see what happens.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Hempiricist Hits the Road, Days 3 & 4: Medford, OR

The gorgeous Applegate Valley as seen from Wooldridge Creek Vineyard and Winery.
 It has been a very busy couple of days here in Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley.

Yesterday I met up with archaeologist Chelsea Rose of Southern Oregon University, who owns land where a pot grower and breeder, Timothy Williams, supposedly came up with the famous "Trainwreck" strain back in the 1980s. She hasn't been able to pin that down yet, but she did lead me to a fascinating collection of old grow sites (pictures below) that I was able to check out today; on a hike together we even found another grow site that she hadn't seen before.

I'll have more about my time in the Applegate Valley in a later post. After meeting with Chelsea on Friday morning, I spent some time at the Southern Oregon Historical Society (picture below), where I pulled dozens of old newspaper and magazine reports on cannabis growing from the 1970s through the present. These will help bulk up my source base on Oregon, which checks off a major goal of this research trip.

I also hung out at a local dispensary, Pharm to Table, where I talked with the manager, a chill Russian dude named Vlad, the friendly and outgoing business part-owner Jason, and another Jason who works in a lab that tests all kinds of Oregon-grown cannabis for pesticides and other contaminants. More to come on those conversations as well (possibly).

That's all I can spit out for now - hopefully I'll have more time to blog when I get back to Denver, some 1,300 miles from now. I'll leave you with these photos from the last two days of my trip.

Pharm to Table dispensary in Medford.

The menu at Pharm to Table.

This old hoop house was used by growers in the Applegate Valley before the days of legal medical cannabis.

Today, this shed is used as a water station, but historically it was used to hang, dry and cure cannabis.

Views of the Applegate Valley from a gravel road near my host's property.

Many pot grows in the Applegate Valley are marked by modified, extra-tall fences

Richard Davis of the Applegate River Lodge is an eccentric cannabis grower and user who has been featured on chef Gordon Ramsey's show "Hotel Hell" and "The Daily Show."