Author: Olivia Jayne
Published: December 22, 2016
Note: Names have been changed to ensure the privacy of interview participants.

As the night unfolded there was a noticeable shift in the tone of conversation. My baseline interview questions had long since concluded and the real discussion began: How can you ensure fair labor practices, specifically when it comes to the health and safety of females, in an industry with a thriving black market? But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Two industry friends, Jay and Essie, arrive at the Elevated Insider HQ for a little pizza, a glass of wine, and a short group survey on their favorite munchies. The conversation prompts were light, “What is the strangest food combination you’ve ever eaten stoned?” and so on.

Both women have been marijuana activists for years with ample recreational and professional experience ranging from seasonal farm work to bud tending and even managing a successful dispensary chain. Combined they’ve been dabbling with doobies for over two decades.

Jay and Essie are self-described “Granola Stoners.” The phrase conjures up images of yogurt loving, expensive hemp pant wearing, white women who like to take the occasional rip off a joint at a party, have a coughing fit, and then eat a suspicious amount of marinated tofu hors d’oeuvres before proudly proclaiming they’re “going vegan – for real this time, guys!”

That’s not Jay or Essie. Not even close. These women are the epitome of cool with looks to kill and oozing with an internal “chill” that generally makes me feel envious, if not a little enamored by their glow. So, how do they define their stoner sub-genre?

JAY: We’re hard working women who aren’t afraid to get dirty or go explore. We can dress up and get fancy AF. We’re not the typical sit-on-the-couch-and-do-nothing type. I’m not handing crystals out to people.

Confidence and self-awareness didn’t always come easily. Although Jay and Essie walked a different life path, their reasons for taking that first puff was strikingly similar. It was all about being accepted, relating to others, quieting their negative self-talk, and obtaining “cool kid” status among peers.

JAY: It took me to a different mindset about being human. There were these other human beings that I had never been around, ‘stoners’, if you will. It changed who I hung out with. It’s not like I consciously cared if they smoked weed or not, but it was just so much easier to connect when they did. At the time I was super insecure. It was so much easier to smoke a bowl and just talk and then keep talking. Your ego shuts down for a second and you’re real with each other. That was a new experience, too. In high school I felt like I had to be preppy…. Wearing Abercrombie, having bleach blonde hair, being a cheerleader, part of the track team… That’s all that I concentrated on. I didn’t care about my spirituality or my passion or my heart. I was super uptight and I needed this release to become who I really was.

ESSIE: My brother had a few friends over and they were smoking. They invited me to join. And that time, I didn’t even get high. I tried smoking thinking, “Oh man, I just really want my brother to like me and think I’m cool.” We didn’t get along our whole lives. He started being mildly nice to me when I started trying to be cool like him. I feel like an entirely different person than who I was now that I’ve been smoking heavily. My whole brain changed. Everything that I wanted to do was different. My motivations were different. You perceive more things. You’re more self-aware and in touch with different parts of yourself. It was my enlightenment.

Although a desire to find belonging was a keystone in Jay and Essie’s stoner genesis, both women ardently reject that peer pressure played a role, saying the motivation to use cannabis was purely internal. This reflection makes sense from a primitive standpoint. Craving community is practically hardwired into our DNA – It’s a survival mechanism that, according to Abraham Maslow’s deficiency needs hierarchy, sits just above physical safety.

So, what happens when outsiders start fucking with the safety of your community? The conversation turns to trimmigrants: migrant workers who come into an area to find a job harvesting marijuana. To make as much money as possible, trimmigrants commonly forgo things like personal transportation and housing, often living on the farms where they work. Farm-owners benefit from hiring out-of-towners as well. With fewer social ties and a desire to pack in as many work hours as possible, they have less “distractions” than their local counterparts.

JAY: They expect a lot of free things and can be uncleanly, almost transient like. We want trimmigrants to be a part of the community, to help out. Don’t just trim, go out to dinner and tip well. Clean up after yourself. Be respectful and kind… Just be good people and be part of the community. Respect and understand that you are coming into our area. Treat it as your home… Unfortunately, we don’t get those kind of people. We get the opposite.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on good ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs once more. Trimmers are working long hours, often sacrificing breaks and a warm place to sleep. Low oversight opens the door for safety concerns, and a constant influx of outsiders throws the micro-community into tumult. Basic human needs go unmet. Societal standards fall by the wayside, and women become easy targets.

JAY: I help out a human trafficking charity in the area. I’ve heard this story more and more in the trimming world. Women need to be careful. Human trafficking is a reality in our society. There are more farms now and they aren’t all growing ethically. It’s not all “good” people out there. There are people who are just seeking money and have bad values. The black market is still heavy. There are still people who are hiding out. I actually had a friend who called me after leaving a farm that he was working on. He kept saying, “Don’t just trim for anyone.” He told me that they were treating the women like prostitutes on the farm. There have been women in my community who will tell me to stay away from certain farms or people. You have to be careful because many times you are going out to the middle of nowhere.

EI (OLLIE): Maybe your employer is doing something dangerous or harmful (It’s not as though these farms have an HR department). I would imagine that no matter what the status of the farm, legal or not, you would be afraid of recourse if you spoke out… You don’t want to be out of a job, there may be physical ramifications for saying something, your social circle may be damaged, they may block you from working at other farms, etc. How do you protect yourself? Would you tell someone if something was wrong or just keep your mouth shut?

EI (GUY): It depends on what they were doing. If they are doing something like say, tax evasion, that’s not something where I would try to interfere.

JAY: It has to be something that’s life threatening.

EI (GUY): Yeah, if it is menacing to an individual person, I would say something. Once you are working on a farm, or doing any kind of work that’s illegal, you’ve already crossed a line. You have to decide which laws you feel are okay to be broken and which laws you need to call the police over.

The marijuana industry is semi-legal, meaning although some states allow medical and recreational use of cannabis, it’s still banned Federally. Contrary to what you may think, black market farms aren’t limited to areas where weed is still illegal. Business is booming everywhere. The appeal of staying off the books is pretty straight forward: less oversight and regulations lowers overhead costs keeping profit margins high and costs to consumers low. High product demands are brinking on gold-rush status, attracting a kaleidoscope of humanity to get in the game, not all of whom have good intentions.

Individuals signing up for black market farm work seem to be drawing an invisible line in the sand – By working for a business that is illegal, U.S. labor standards and safety go out the window. After all, who are you going to tell?*

Reveal recently posted a story focusing on “The Emerald Triangle”, more specifically on Humboldt County, where sex trafficking, rape, and other sexual abuse is growing to staggering levels. Missing persons reports are through the roof, and overwhelmed law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep up. Bear in mind, many times crimes go unreported.

EI (OLLIE): So, because you were in this industry before it was fully legalized, the idea of an illegal business practice isn’t something that you find offensive. If it’s a humanitarian issue, that’s different.

ESSIE: That’s the stoner point of view.

JAY: I’ve chosen to work on farms where people are very kind. The responsibility is the workers’. They need to decide who they want to work for.

EI (OLLIE): Are you saying the the onus of safety is not on the person who owns the farm, but the person working on the farm?

JAY: No, I just think that there is such a high demand for farm work that the trimmers can be selective. It’s not right, but that’s why I pick the places I do. There aren’t employment contracts or SOP’s. I’m choosing to enter into this unstable world. What the business owners are doing, I might not like. Every farm that I’ve worked on has been “carded”, but there have still been times when I’ve been afraid.

ESSIE: You can tolerate a lot more if you’re working under the table. The money is good enough that you don’t care if you’re a little cold or a little wet.

Although females with blue-collar cannabis jobs like farm work are facing tenuous conditions, the C-Suite appears to be a promise land for women hoping to climb the corporate ladder (at least on the legal side of the marijuana business landscape). According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, women account for 36% of leadership positions in the entire cannabis industry. That’s strikingly higher than the U.S. corporate average of 22%. In sectors like infused product manufacturing, women have made even more significant gains holding upwards of 48% of jobs with key decision-making ability (ie: CEO, Founder, President, CMO, etc). Organizations like Women Grow hold regular leadership summits where women can network, gain invaluable industry insight, and redefine what it means to be an empowered female in the workplace.

With such tremendous gains on high levels, why, oh why, are we struggling to protect the basic human rights of our front-line workers? This question runs deep and it isn’t new in the farming industry. I’m reminded of a quote by Cesar Chavez, “It’s ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.”

This industry is enchanting in many respects, but it’s not all sunshine and soil. We need to be diligent and speak out in our communities. Silence is where the bad thing grows. Another quote – the mantra for the United Farm Workers beginning in the early 70’s, the inspiring rebel yell for U.S. immigration reform protesters in the early 2000’s -“Si, se puede.” Yes, it can be done… one worker, one farm, one community at a time, but we need to shine a light and demand something better, for ourselves and for our sisters.

Let your battle cry be heard.

*Have you survived a sexual assault or know someone who has? Get free and confidential help, 24/7. RAINN is America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

1-800-656-HOPE (4672

Meet today’s insiders, Jay and Essie:

JAY is a “Granola Stoner” who rates her experience level an 8.5 out of 10. These days she turns to cannabis primarily for medicinal benefits looking for relief from frequent muscle spasms in the form of low-dose edibles. (Her personal fav. – Epic Edibles Slow & Low Caramels).When she does use for recreational purposes, she says she loves joints because they make her “feel gangster.”

  • Stoner Level: Weekly Intake, Very Experienced
  • Favorite Strain: Granddaddy Purple (Indica)
  • Weirdest Experience: At a local hemp festival, Jay had been ripping the bong hard when a edible-toting fairy approached. On the drive home, the weed started kicking in – Beginning with crazed laughter, then euphoria, then straight up panic by the time she reached her house. The only thing that helped? Watching old episodes of “Friends” on Netflix.

ESSIE didn’t get into using cannabis until her mid-twenties, but says her “whole brain changed” after beginning to smoke heavily. Opting for joints packed with fruity sativa strains, Essie loves to couple outdoor adventure with a “sunshiney” high.

  • Stoner Level: 4+/Daily Intake, Moderately Experienced
  • Favorite Strain: Mango (Sativa)
  • Weirdest Experience: At 15 Essie and her BF knew they wanted to try cannabis, but didn’t know how to consume it. Finding an older sibling’s stash of unsalted pot butter, they stirred several tablespoons each into chocolate pudding packs and choked it down. Essie says of the lumpy cannabis concoction, “It was one of the most disgusting tasting things I’ve ever had in my mouth.”