‘Rape and Exploitation Are Not Our Culture,’ Says Hezekiah Allen of the CGA
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Hezekiah D. Allen, Executive Director of the California Growers Association (CGA) responds to the article we (and other media outlets) published about sex trafficking in the marijuana industry.
Dear Community Members,
Let me open simply by condemning sexual exploitation and violence within our community.
An article published on September 8, entitled “In secretive marijuana industry, whispers of abuse and trafficking,” details the appalling truth that humanity has a dark side and that darkness is present here in our communities. There is no place for such activity in the world that I envision nor in the world that we are working to build together.
It is no secret that criminal behavior lingers in the shadows cast by prohibition and regulatory vacuum. This isn’t about cannabis. Rape and exploitation are not our culture. This is about criminals exploiting the failed policies that we are working so hard to overcome. A multi-generational failure of public policy has given safe-harbor to criminals in our communities. It is time to stand together as beacons, embracing change and solutions as we illuminate the darkest shadows.
It is time to stand together and talk solutions. And for starters, I’ve got a few:
Start with permitting. The courageous growers that have stepped forward to comply with emerging regulations must be permitted. The transparency, accountability—and ultimately—normalcy that will come from being regulated business owners is an important antidote to the toxic and cancerous criminality that is afflicting our communities. Standing in the way of issuing permits to growers is not solving problems. The system won’t work if permit applications sit in unprocessed stacks on bureaucrat’s desks.
Normalize our workforce. The day the article was published I was meeting with about 40 growers from around the state, a representative from the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and several private sector Farm Labor Contractors. Exploitation of farm and migrant labor is nothing new and solutions exist. It is time normalize this industry and ensure the workforce is treated with the dignity that all people have a right to.
More resources for law enforcement. Though it is unpopular to many growers who grew up victimized by the war on drugs, rural counties need more resources for law enforcement. Our communities need more resources for the people who are tasked with keeping our communities safe—this is one of the main reasons Cal Growers is willing to support tax proposals at the state and local level.
More resources for mental health and emergency services. Throughout the article the cracks in our mental health and social safety nets became very apparent. Shelters and crisis centers as recruiting grounds for trafficking; hard working non-profits without the resources needed to address the seasonal rush of demand for their services; these are real problems that we must address together. It starts with supporting and passing taxes to fund this important work.
As we make this transition we must work together to build the world we want to live in. The same way that world doesn’t include dry riverbeds and dead salmon, it doesn’t include sexual violence and exploitation.
It is a world where we honor and celebrate all people, women, men and those who are somewhere in between or outside of that binary. It includes healthy rivers, recovering forests and a strong sense of community. This is the world I grew up in and the world that inspires my focus and drives the hard work. I know it is possible, I have experienced it all my life.
And yes—I’ve experienced both worlds.
Today, both of these worlds exist side by side. They have for many years. It is not helpful to paint with a broad brush and blur the two. We must not let this dark reality divide us. Pointing fingers won’t help. Our future will not get better because we lump everyone together and condemn all growers for the actions of a few criminals. It is long past time we learn to distinguish between the two, learned to distinguish between criminals and growers. Permits and licenses are a clear bright line to get us started. It is well past time that we take that first step.
We must work together—especially when the dark side of humanity and human weakness inevitably rears its ugly head. It is time to move past prejudice. It is time for solutions and those will come when we work together—grower, environmentalist, law enforcement and local government—to permit and regulate this industry.
With a heavy heart and commitment to a better future,
Hezekiah D. Allen, Executive Director of California Growers Association