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Ryan Burns

This week's cover story goes digging around in the contaminated dirt of a trespass marijuana grow site deep in the Trinity National Forest. Last August, law enforcement confiscated more than 5,000 plants at the site, which was likely maintained by five or six men. Only one was arrested — a 21-year-old Mexican man who's already been deported once.

It's widely assumed that when Mexicans get arrested at a pot grow, they must be members of a drug cartel. That assumption is often wrong. As with every other crop grown and harvested in California, you can't identify where the profits go based on the ethnicity of the laborers in the fields.

According to Bruce Hilbach-Barger, one of the volunteers who helped organize last week's cleanup, many of the men tending local grows are exploited migrant workers, men who get picked up at the border — or maybe a Home Depot parking lot — and told that if they come do "agricultural work" for a year, their families back home will get paid $10,000 up front. After a year's work the workers may get paid another $15,000. In the meantime, they're captive. They can't leave in search of a better gig because a) they're in the middle of nowhere, and b) their employers know where their families live.

And laborers aren't the only victims of exploitation in this system. Our public lands are being dammed, graded and sprinkled with poisonous chemicals.

On both fronts, marijuana's quasi-legal status actively promotes exploitation. The threat of arrest and asset forfeiture drives grows onto remote public lands, where there are no assets (beyond the crops) to be seized, and where the ultimate profiteers may rarely step foot.

Obviously, law enforcement busts haven't slowed the "green rush." Destructive outlaw grows won't go away until marijuana is fully legalized and regulated. But in the meantime, local tokers can at least make sure we're not contributing to the problem. How? By doing what we do with food: Find out where it comes from, who's growing it and how. Support environmentally responsible growers. They do exist.

If consumers can convince Wal-Mart to carry organic produce, maybe we can have a positive impact on marijuana production, too.

More news nugs:

Here's a great pot-consumer resource: Next Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Native Forum of HSU's BSS building, a master plant chemist named Jeffrey Raber, Ph.D., will provide a chemical analysis of cannabis. The talk, part of the second annual speaker series presented by the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, will explore methods of testing for contamination and examine the potential for inhaling pesticides, among other topics. Sounds fascinating.

Last Tuesday, Colorado voters approved a measure that will impose taxes on recreational weed — a wholesale excise tax of 15 percent and a retail sales tax of 10 percent, which the state legislature can choose to raise to 15 percent. The measure passed with 65 percent of the vote despite an opposition campaign led by a marijuana attorney named Rod Corry, who tried to sway voters by giving away $1,000-worth of joints at rallies.

Doesn't it seem like U.S. attorneys in California have cracked down on the best, most law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries? (Remember Northstone Organics?) Turns out that's true. According to emails obtained in a multimillion-dollar SoCal forfeiture case, California's four U.S. attorneys, including our region's harasser extraordinaire Melinda Haag, deliberately ignored the Obama administration's directions to honor the will of state voters. One California-based U.S. attorney boasted in an internal email, "we are enforcing Federal law in this district and ... all stores in our jurisdiction will be shut down." The story was reported on San Francisco Chronicle pot blog "Smell the Truth."

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About The Author

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Bio:
Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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