The Marijuana Industry: What’s the Real Problem?

by: Carmelina Forzisi

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot discriminate based on sex for any aspect of employment.[1] However, even with this federal law in place, “women are [still] the victims in 80% of rapes and sexual assaults that take place in the workplace.”[2] This concern goes a step further for those individuals working in illegal industries. In 1996, California passed Proposition 215 and became the first state in the Union to permit marijuana for medical purposes.[3] However, the law did not limit the amount a person could grow, leading to the issue of monitoring what growers are actually growing to legally sell versus that which is sold on the black market.[4] As a result of this questionable territory, there is a higher possibility for involvement with other illegal actions that go unpunished, such as sex trafficking of women. The result of this is a dangerous work environment for women.[5]

Kailan Meserve, a grower in Humboldt County in California, was the first in the county to be charged with rape for sexually assaulting his employee “trimmers” (those who trim marijuana buds during the harvest season).[6] However, this is not the norm and countless women are victims to their growing employers with no consequences to these growers. The continued obsession with the War on Drugs, even when it has become legalized for medical purposes, overpowers the real issue of innocent women being sexually assaulted.[7] “Rather than devote their resources to solving the real crimes of underage sex trafficking and slavery, cops focus on raiding grow operations – legal or not – to seize cash and assets for financial gain.” [8]

The Emerald Triangle, which includes Humboldt County, has become a common place for students at nearby colleges to take jobs as trimmers. Female “trimmigrants” tell stories of having to perform oral copulation on their bosses to get paid, or being offered higher wages if they trim topless.[9] There has even been an issue with a grower having sexual intercourse with his teenage trimmers and then locking them in an oversized toolbox to prevent them from running away.[10] These growers “demand for female companionship has contributed to sex trafficking in these rural areas . . .”[11] Another concern is that often growing is passed down from generation to generation, and this mentality of sexually assaulting women with no consequences will be passed on to the male youth to perpetuate this cycle.[12]

Females in the growing industry risk being sexually assaulted, which, though illegal goes unsanctioned.[13] So why is this going unnoticed? Female trimmers rarely reach out to law enforcement regarding this issue, and when they do they are not satisfied with the outcome.[14] Officers fail to investigate reported sexual violence and abuse in this industry, and instead blame the issue on the drug trade.[15] An investigator working for the Eureka Police Department admitted that not only does law enforcement not have an interest in “cracking down” on sex traffickers, but also the growers are aware of this and therefore do not fear consequences for their actions.[16]

Sexual assault often goes unreported by victims in general, but trimmers who become victims are even less likely to report.[17] For those who want to stay in the trimming industry, they don’t want to call attention to illegal actions, including black market sales and sexual assault, because it will likely prevent them from future jobs.[18] Furthermore, the physical location creates a level of difficulty for trimmigrants to get out. For some young trimmigrants who have troubled histories, they may not even realize they have been abused.[19]

Much needs to be done not only to publicize this issue, but also to ensure victims report when they are assaulted, and that these growers are punished as a result. It should be noted that, “as we witness the development of the cannabis industry in states that have fully legalized the plant, nowhere do we hear about sexual exploitation, slavery, and missing persons. Operating in the light of day tends to promote a fair and just way of doing business.”[20]


[1] Women in the American Workforce, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/reports/american_experiences/women.cfm.

[2] nat’l sexual violence resource center, Sexual Violence & the Workplace (2013), http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_overview_sexual-violence-workplace.pdf.

[3] State Medical Marijuana Laws, National Conference of State Legislatures (July 20, 2016), http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx.

[4] Sex Abuse Goes Unchecked In The Weed Business. This is Why: Why we need to talk about the Emerald Triangle, The Huffington Post (Sept. 9, 2016, 10:06 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/in-secretive-marijuana-industry-whispers-of-abuse_us_57cefd7ee4b0f831f705be3f.

[5] Karen August, Women in the Marijuana Industry, Vol. 35 HUMBOLDT J. of SOC. REL., 89, 102 (2013) (discussing dangerous work environments for women).

[6] See Sex Abuse Goes Unchecked In The Weed Business. This is Why: Why we need to talk about the Emerald Triangle, The Huffington Post (Sept. 9, 2016, 10:06 AM).

[7] Justin Gardner, Cops Exposed For Ignoring Sex Trafficking and Slavery to Raid Pot Farms For Profits Instead (Sept. 16, 2016), http://thefreethoughtproject.com/cops-ignoring-sex-trafficking-raid-pot/.

[8] Id.

[9] See Sex Abuse Goes Unchecked In The Weed Business. This is Why: Why we need to talk about the Emerald Triangle, The Huffington Post (Sept. 9, 2016, 10:06 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/in-secretive-marijuana-industry-whispers-of-abuse_us_57cefd7ee4b0f831f705be3f.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] See Karen August, Women in the Marijuana Industry, Vol. 35 HUMBOLDT J. of SOC. REL., 89, 102 (2013).

[14] See Sex Abuse Goes Unchecked In The Weed Business. This is Why: Why we need to talk about the Emerald Triangle, The Huffington Post (Sept. 9, 2016, 10:06 AM).

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] See Justin Gardner, Cops Exposed For Ignoring Sex Trafficking and Slavery to Raid Pot Farms For Profits Instead (Sept. 16, 2016).

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