Mar 8, 2017 12:20 PM

How Will New Labor Standards Change California Cannabis Industry?

The cannabis industry in California is famous for its growing farms, but the majority of its workers are migrants who moved there for earning untaxed cash wages. In 2018, the state is going to put into effect new labor regulations aimed to give the weed industry the same status as any other agricultural industry has. So, how will new labor standards change the California cannabis industry?

Current Situation on Cannabis Farms

The northern counties of the state are full of cannabis farms that use the workforce of migrants from the nearest states and traveling Europeans to cultivate and harvest marijuana plants. Though the farmers supply workers with living facilities, food, and wages, there are still many concerning issues.

The most disturbing one is that the huge influx of cannabis migratory workforce is an unbearable social burden for the Emerald Triangle. Although these people help grow marijuana, they require a supporting infrastructure that the area does not have.

Moreover, the so-called “trimmigrants” also raise the questions of trafficking, sexual harassment, and violence that often take place on marijuana farms. There is an increasing number of cases when cannabis farm workers are exposed to injuries and sexual exploitation instead of getting wages for their work.

Salary is paid to farmworkers under the table, which means the state does not receive taxes and experiences an outflow of cash. On average, a worker gets $20 per hour plus $150 to $200 per pound of trimmed pot flowers, which in total equals to $1,000 per week.

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New Labor Regulations

On the farm, the workforce must be provided with nearby living facilities including bathrooms, showers, and hand-washing stations, according to the state’s medical cannabis regulations.

Until California finally issues new regulations, cannabis farmers are not going to change these employee facilities.

Starting from 2019, California weed growers must also pay overtime compensation to their workers and train them on the topics of pesticides and other hazardous materials.

Currently, labor costs constitute half of all expenses for producing a pound of cannabis in the Emerald Triangle. If the financial burden on weed producers is increased, they will have to reduce wages paid to farm workers.

California is also considering measures aimed to protect the rights of working migrants.

In Eureka, the North Coast Rape Crisis Team receives calls from abused farm workers on their hotline at 707-445-2881. Though some migrants still restrain from addressing the specialists out of fear of retaliation, more and more people are looking for the community's help.

The state legislators are seeking to approve AB 26, a bill that would oblige both workers and farm owners to go through training on abusive conduct and sexual exploitation.

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Possible Consequences

The industry experts say that the best option for cannabis farmers would be to deliver their products to a centralized processing facility that hires full-time workers. It would allow them to avoid the process of getting a permit for building housing facilities and save money on construction.

Even if it cost the same money, cannabis farmers would be free of many problems related to employees and the regulatory burdens they entail.

Moreover, such processing facilities would be able to create full-time workplaces and steer money into the local economy.

However, small remote farms in Northern California that are still under the law would not be able to bear the regulatory costs and competition from huge farms and processing facilities.

In California, marijuana farms are limited by one acre in size until 2023, but later the state most probably will allow cultivating weed on larger areas.

Fred Krissman, research associate at Humboldt State University, thinks that small cannabis growers will choose to refuse from workers in order to reduce labor costs and enter into contracts with processing facilities instead.

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