On January 1st, 2018, California became the largest state of the United States to legalise the sale of recreational cannabis. America’s largest state economy has already legalised the use and sale of cannabis, although under strict regulations and requiring businesses to obtain a selling licence. The use and sale of medical cannabis in this state has been legal since 1996, setting a precedent in the Americas. As provided for by a statute known as the “Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act,” any person over 21 is legally allowed to use, possess, and grow this plant. Additionally, unlike other states, California stipulates that cannabis can be bought without showing a valid medical prescription or an ID card.
Legalisation and Extensive Cannabis Production
Although California was not the first state to legalise recreational cannabis, California accounted for 34% of total legal sales in the U.S. in 2017—when cannabis sale for recreational use was still banned within this state. Since legalisation came into force, sales doubled from 18 million dollars in January to 37.5 million in August 2018, that is, an approximate 108% increase just the first year after the measure was adopted, according to NGO California NORML.
Of course, nothing remained the same in the Golden State after shops started selling cannabis, exploiting a market that pumps millions into the economy. Jon Gettman, former head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and current president at DrugScience.org, estimates that marijuana harvest in the U.S. brings in a total revenue of 35,800 million dollars and that cannabis production has increased 10-fold over the last 20 years.
Cutting Off Marijuana in California
Enticed by these figures and widespread stories of high wages at cannabis farms, every year tens of people from all over the world, especially from Latin America, arrive in California for trimming season—from August to December. An easy but monotonous and essential job within the cannabis value chain. Trimmers are the real cannabis migrant workers. As soon as they arrive at a farm, they work every day until harvest ends, and then move on to the next one to do the same thing all over again. Their job is to cut off the leaves surrounding buds so that flowers are ready for sale. Their wage is paid as per pounds of finished flower and each trimmer works at their own pace. The more you trim, the more you earn. Still, living conditions are not easy: trimmers live in the same fields they work on and sleep in tents or vans.
Emerald Triangle: Trimmers’ Meeting Point
Emerald Triangle, consisting of the counties of Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino, is the epicentre of America’s largest growing region and one of the most productive locations for cannabis worldwide. This area welcomes workers wishing to earn from 100 to 150 U.S. dollars per each pound of trimmed marijuana. Yet, not every plantation is legal, and employment does not always comply with formal requirements. This last issue breeds violence: farmers know that migrant workers cross the border illegally and, quite often, they do not hold a work visa. From the 70s until the present day, California has lured in millions of workers looking forward to making money on these plantations, away from the oppression of our capitalist society—living a simple life. According to data collected by California NORML, when legalisation became effective in 2018, out of an estimated total of 30,000 growers in Emerald Triangle, 2,200 applied for a legal licence.
This year, production is expected to climb, and more licences to grow and produce are expected to be issued. Across the U.S.A., there are 15 States where recreational cannabis is legal, and 33 where medical use is authorised. Demand, production, and the number of workers are on the rise.