“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.