California’s “Trimmigrants” Less Targeted for Prosecution, Still Grapple With Harassment, Wage Theft

Legalization of marijuana has brought a number of enterprises and employees from the shadows of the black market. One of those includes the work of so-called “bud trimmers.” Los Angeles marijuana employment attorneys know that because so many of these workers are from other places, flocking in heavy numbers during harvest seasons, they are sometimes referred to as “trimmigrants.” These workers were historically subject to an outsized risk of the same sort of abuses many migrant workers face – unfair wages or wage theft, discrimination and sexual harassment.Los Angeles marijuana employment attorney

An article published two years ago in “Broadly” was written by a woman who worked for years during harvest season on illegal marijuana farms in rural California. The isolation of the site made it all the more dangerous for young female workers – not only because they risked jail time and felony charges for unregulated, untaxed income, but because they are frequently (especially on the black market) targeted for sexual harassment. One investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal found in 2016 that the number of sexual assaults suffered by female trimmers was far underestimated.

Ideally, legalizing the drug would have brought these sort of elements of the industry to light, making workers safer. Perhaps to some degree, that is true. However, as Los Angeles marijuana attorneys with practice areas both in the budding cannabis law as well as California employment law, we recognize these workers may still be vulnerable, especially if the operation is still illegal (as a fair number still are, given the high taxation and testing requirements on legal marijuana and the limited number of cultivators and distributors allowed, which varies by jurisdiction. Trimmers are an inherent part of cannabis cultivation process, though the hours are long and the work tedious. 

Now that cannabis cultivators are likely to get bigger, employment attorneys and Los Angeles marijuana employment lawyers are asking whether safety and wage issues will start coming to light.

Previously, most “trimmigrants” were paid under-the-table, never paid taxes and companies hiring them didn’t bother to collect workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance as they might with any other employee. For this reason, many hired were illegal immigrants, who could make more sitting on a couch with a pair of scissors than out in the fields picking tomatoes or other crops in the blazing sun for pennies on the dollar. Others hired were only paid on a barter system – trim the buds in exchange for medical marijuana. It was incredibly uncommon to hear stories of an entire summer’s worth of work as a trimmer going unpaid – with virtually no legal recourse for the victim.

Now, companies say they are more carefully vetting employees and ensuring their earnings are reported to the IRS. Trimmers are more frequently paid on a salary basis, but may be entitled to certain benefits, such as workers’ compensation if they are hurt on the job. However, as reported by The New York Times, trimming weed is no longer as profitable as it once was; a pound of marijuana that a decade ago sold for $2,000 on the street is now only valued at about $500 – maybe. Trimmers typically get paid by the weight, and some say it’s still preferable to the hard labor out in the fields, even if trimming tends to command less respect.

There are still safety concerns with regard to illegal drug cartels, potential federal raids and sexual harassment. Some trimmers found they are better off working in pairs.

Both companies and workers interested in learning more about their rights as employers and employees can call an experienced Los Angeles marijuana employment attorney for a free initial consultation.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients, employees and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

The ‘Green Dimension’: Inside the Lives of California’s Marijuana Trimmers, Nov. 29, 2018, By Dan Levin, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

California Cannabis Testing Lab Shut Down Amid Reports of Doctored Lab Results, Dec. 4, 2018, Los Angeles Marijuana Employee Attorney Blog