By Edmonde Franco
WASHINGTON: I remember sitting on my living room floor smoking a joint with friends while watching Saturday Night Live. Laraine Newman was doing an ad for the American Dope Growers Union. We laughed so hard tears were running down our cheeks.
It was April 1977. Looking back on it now maybe it isn’t so funny after all. Maybe it is an idea whose time has come.
One evening I was talking with friends about the possibilities of investing in the new cannabis industry. We wondered if it would be a good bet for the future, since the clone to customer chain seemed to be where the real money was to be made.
So I took a job at a Washington State producer/processor. No better way to see and learn an
industry than from the bottom up.
I lasted less than a month. Not because the job was hard but because I was asked to work in a closed room with an non-ventilated propane heater. Carbon monoxide poisoning is not on my list of ways I want to die.
When my concerns were brushed aside I quit. I wasn’t there because I needed a job. I could easily walk away.
Sadly that is not the case for the many people still out there working in conditions just like that. “Just go outside if you start to feel dizzy” is not the proper way to handle the situation.
Recent articles on pesticides found on retail samples of cannabis raise a larger question for me. Do you think the worker who was told to spray that pesticide was wearing anything more than a paper mask? Was he wearing even that?
I began to wonder if what I was seeing was typical of the industry so I talked to other workers from producer/processors around the state. I was not surprised to find conditions ran the full gamut from serious laboratory conditions to down right sweat shops. Most seem to fall somewhere in between.
I did hear a fair number of people who complained about problems with getting paid. Some had to wait past scheduled paydays for their checks and a number complained of checks bouncing but eventually getting paid.
I did notice a large number of people were hired as contract agricultural workers, not as employees. This leaves the worker open to paying their own taxes and payments. It also gives them none of the protections given to employees.