Marijuana trimmers at this farm were paid $200 for every pound trimmed. Credit: Andrew Burton for Reveal

The cannabis workers protection bill is moving swiftly through the California Assembly.

At a hearing today, members of the Business and Professions Committee voted to move the bill forward after brief testimony from its sponsor, the UFCW Western States Council. The Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment will hear the bill next.

“Last fall, The Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered horrendous practices by some cannabis operators, taking complete advantage of farmworkers, especially young women, who were working in isolated environments, making them vulnerable to physical abuse and harassment,” said Sam Rodriguez, the council’s legislative director. “Working with the industry, we identified an online Cal/OSHA (another name for the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health) course to help both employer and employees become aware of existing law.”

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, introduced the bill in response to an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that uncovered widespread sexual harassment and abuse of female workers in California’s marijuana-growing industry. Reveal found that migrant workers, known as trimmigrants, are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

The bill would require marijuana business owners to put at least one employee through a 30-hour state training program within one year of receiving a license. It’s an education that many in the industry believe growers and workers desperately need. Even as marijuana growers come out of the shadows and apply for state licensure, many remain unaware of their requirements under the law.

“It’s a great first step,” said Roy Sianez, Cooper’s legislative director. “Having that employee go through the training – they become the eyes and the ears.”

Shoshana Walter can be reached at swalter@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.