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A Group of California Trimmigrants Sue for Worker Protections

PHOTO Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now


A Group of California Trimmigrants Sue for Worker Protections

A new potential class action lawsuit highlights a key difference between a legal cannabis market and an illegal one: a worker’s ability to turn to the courts for help.

California cannabis workers have filed a major class action lawsuit against two cannabis companies, alleging that the companies did not pay their workers for overtime, did not provide the required meal and rest breaks and threatened employees not to leave the farm’s remote location.

According to the proposed class action lawsuit, a group of workers hired to trim cannabis at a farm in Lake County, California are looking to sue the cannabis harvesting company Loud Buddha LLC and Pura Cali Management Corp., a cultivation contractor hired by Loud Buddha.

The companies are accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and the California labor code for practices which, unfortunately, are common on illicit market cannabis grows but are now verboten on California’s newly legal cannabis farms.

According to the complaint, after working on the farm through the summer, 50 workers processed the crop and loaded it into commercial freezers. The workers said in the complaint they produced multiple tons of cannabis. While that may sound like a fun time, according to the workers’ 11-count complaint, it was anything but. They say they were forced to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. They were also expected to remain at the farm’s remote location and were threatened with discipline if they left. Other parts of the complaint included failing to track hours, overtime, travel reimbursement, and even not providing meal and rest breaks.

Some would argue these kind of cases will be a growing pain of the cannabis industry necessary to force out the bad actors. But whatever these class action cases are, expect more of them. This is because of a recent ruling in the Tenth Circuit, Kenney v. Helix TCS, which firmly established even if a business was operating in violation of the federal Controlled Substance Act, it must be in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, regardless of state law.

In short, the Tenth Circuit court concluded that just because an employer is breaking one federal law doesn’t mean they are off the hook with following other ones, namely, the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Cannabis consumers can and must demand better from businesses in the legal cannabis industry,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now.

Altieri went on to note that the cannabis community didn’t push to bring marijuana from an underground market to a regulated one just so rich investors could exploit and demean working class Americans for no reason other than to slightly increase their profit margins.

He had a firm response to how these kinds of operators should be dealt with by regulators.

“If the allegations of labor abuses practiced by Loud Buddha, Pura Cali Management and others are accurate, they should not only be forced to compensate their employees for their rightfully earned wages and then some, they should promptly lose whatever licenses they maintain to engage in cannabis commerce in legal states,” Altieri said.

This isn’t the first time the California cannabis industry has been rocked by a labor lawsuit scandal. Last December, multistate cannabis operator MedMen was hit with a potential class action lawsuit that alleged two of its subsidiaries failed to pay minimum wage for off-the-clock work, pay employees the proper amount for their time and provide mandatory breaks, and that they failed to keep accurate records of hours worked. MedMen disputes the allegations.

When California voted to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2016 and when the regulated market rolled out in 2018, advocates hoped that the newly legal cannabis market would allow workers in the cannabis industry access to the legal system and to regulations that could protect them from exploitation. Whether or not these workers are able to exercise their rights remains to be seen.

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