Author Topic: A father and son shot, dismembered and burned. This is the dark side of California cannabis  (Read 196 times)

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American Military News  by Paige St. John Los Angeles Times November 17, 2023

From the southern Mojave Desert to the mist-shrouded mountains in the northern ranges, the California green rush was exploiting and killing workers.

Relaxed criminal penalties and expanding markets had set off a massive boom in illegal cultivation. Even on licensed farms, California regulators failed to protect workers in the labor-intensive industry.

A Los Angeles Times investigation documented widespread exploitation, wage theft and disregard for worker safety and housing.

The newspaper found 44 farm-related deaths, surveying just a five-year period in only 10 counties. Among them was an 8-month old infant who died in Trinity County from an undetermined cause. The rest were workers.

All but five of the deceased were immigrants.

A third of them came from Mexico.

Illegal cannabis has a controversial but largely tolerated footing in Mendocino County.

The crop is the economic lifeblood for small, stagnant towns like Willits, devastated by the closing of sawmills. The sheriff estimates the county’s redwood forests house more than 5,000 cannabis operations, the vast majority likely to never go legal and unlikely to ever be visited by the sheriff’s two-man narcotics squad.

Even on the most peaceful homestead farm, to convert crops into cash requires dealing with the drug trade. Guns are common, as are armed robberies, shootouts and other mayhem. The first season Ulises and Chino were in Mendocino, a pair of Las Vegas security guards donned body armor and tried to heist a money delivery to an illegal operation in nearby Covelo. The robbers failed to make a clean getaway, leading to an armed standoff with police that ended when the ringleader shot off the top of his head in a botched suicide.

The cannabis community is also deeply segregated by race and class. Growers who own their own land are predominantly white. Those who work it are predominantly people of color, such as traveling work crews of older Hmong who immigrated decades ago, young Argentinians staying only for the summer, and crews assembled by Mexican labor contractors.

The latter are frequently branded “cartel,” a label that both creates a class of outsiders and discounts the suffering of those on that side of that fence.

Though state and federal worker-protection laws cover such laborers, those deaths and dozens more identified by The Times were not investigated by labor agencies. Their absence from the record makes the cannabis industry appear safer than it is, avoiding scrutiny or protections that might prevent additional deaths.