As more women are drawn to Humboldt County’s marijuana trade and the off-grid lifestyle, a local battered-women’s shelter has noticed a growing trend of violent encounters. According to the Standard-Examiner‘s article, Young Women Find Dangerous Lifestyle in Pot Growing Industry, “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.”
While there is no doubt the pot industry is pumping a lot of cash into the community and thereby helping the local economy, farm owners, most of them 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. Sometimes, what started as a casual hookup or dating scenario turns into demands for sex and even assault.”
Most women who survive violence are hesitant to seek help in general. However, women in the pot industry are under even more pressure to keep quiet because they are part of a culture that promotes secrecy. The cycle of violence is perpetrated by an underground, black market economy. This is just one more reason the marijuana industry needs to be legalized and regulated. Moving the marijuana industry above ground will protect workers’ rights, hold employers accountable, and remove the culture of secrecy that continues to foster female exploitation.
Two stories that will break your heart:
“A state forest fire crew found a disoriented 23-year-old Southern California woman dubbed “Karen” wandering a back road in nothing but a sarong. Balletta took her to the emergency room, where they determined the traumatized woman had been slipped a date-rape drug and raped. She had been cooking, cleaning and gardening on a pot farm for three months and wasn’t allowed to go into town. One of the young guys running the farm attacked her. She ran off but was afraid to seek help from neighbors, who were the pot growers’ friends.”
“A 33-year-old woman and her husband were growing pot and raising three children on a marijuana farm, miles from Garberville. Her husband had a drinking problem, and was getting more violent. One day, he became extremely violent and threw the car keys into the woods. “Michelle” fled on foot with only a cell phone [and] climbed into a tree to hide.”