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Helping Immigrant Farmers Access California’s Legal Cannabis Industry

Hmong Farmers Struggle to Access CA’s Legal Pot Industry
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now


Helping Immigrant Farmers Access California’s Legal Cannabis Industry

Almost all cannabis cultivators are struggling to become compliant with California’s new adult-use cannabis regulations. One group wants to make it easier for marginalized immigrant farmers, especially the Hmong.

In recent years, Hmong growers — immigrants from the Southeast Asian nations of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China who speak Hmong-Mien languages — have established themselves in the Emerald Triangle’s cannabis cultivation scene. Now, as California rolls out its regulatory system, many of the Hmong cannabis farmers are finding it difficult to negotiate the transition into licensed cultivation, like most cannabis farmers, but with added language and cultural barriers.

But an advocacy group has emerged in Trinity County to help Hmong growers come into compliance. The group, Conscious Cannabis Resources, has been contacting hundreds of Hmong growers and trying to build bridges into the legal cannabis industry. This effort could help avoid discriminatory police enforcement against Hmong cannabis growers, which past years has been seen elsewhere in Northern California’s cannabis belt.

“We are here organizing and trying to gather all the small local growers here in Trinity County to stand up for their rights and fight back against a system that is set in place to tear them down,” the group wrote in an online statement in 2016. “There are thousands of small family growers that stand to lose everything if we are not successful. We need the support of the cannabis community now, more than ever, to let the farmers who help make this industry what it is know that they are not alone.”

Bridging the Cultural Gap in Trinity County

Victor Vang, a member of Conscious Cannabis Resources and a cannabis grower in Humboldt County, told the North Coast Journal that Hmong cultivators are especially struggling to navigate the complicated legal lingo surrounding the nuances of California’s cannabis legalization.

“There is a language barrier definitely,” Vang said. He especially pointed to the Trinity Pines area, south of the village of Hayfork, where tracts are being subdivided for cannabis cultivation, with a large concentration of Hmong growers. Many arrived there from Humboldt, seeking cheaper land in the backcountry.

Vang told the Journal that first-generation Hmong immigrants — many of whom arrived in the U.S. seeking asylum in the 1970s and 1980s after facing persecution in Laos — often draw on their background as agriculturalists in the high Southeast Asian mountains to apply their skills to cannabis cultivation in Northern California. He characterized them as folks with “a green thumb… chasing that cash crop… They’re just trying to get a piece of the American pie.”

Vang said his small organization, with only two paid staffers and a handful of volunteers, provides translation and other assistance that can be vital in Trinity’s often remote and off-grid communities. He estimated that the group has established contact with some 400 growers.

However, only a fraction of these cultivators has chosen to come in from the cold and comply with California’s new regulatory regime. While the majority of white and English-speaking cannabis growers have also avoided compliance because of the burdensome regulations, Vang says the divide is wider for immigrant farmers.

“There’s a huge cultural clash,” Vang told the North Coast Journal. “There’s always a barrier between government and the people… We try to bridge that gap.”

The North Coast Journal noted that there has been little effort to reach out to immigrant farmers in the supposedly more liberal Humboldt County.

“What we’ve seen across the board with the Hmong, Bulgarian and Latino populations is there hasn’t been a lot of outreach,” said Terra Carver, executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance. She admitted her organization hadn’t had any Hmong or Laotian-Americans “come through our doors.”

Policing California’s Illicit Cannabis Market

“We’re in a no man’s land,” Vang said, invoking Trinity’s lingering Wild West reputation — and fears of discriminatory enforcement. He said there is a widespread perception that “police aren’t out there to assist them, police are out there to get them.”

This perception has been supported by years of tension with local police and city officials in Trinity’s neighbor, Siskiyou County. Three lawsuits have been brought against the Siskiyou County’s sheriff for discrimination against the Hmong, though three times the judge threw the case out, according to a Los Angeles Times article on the situation in Siskiyou.

According to the paper, the American Civil Liberties Union had even intervened on behalf of the Hmong growers, citing acts of discrimination against the county’s Hmong. For instance, the previous year the town council in Yreka passed a resolution declaring the municipality’s Hmong farmers “undesired” and cut off sales of water to their plots.

The LA Times also made the discrimination the Hmong appear to face in Northern California is an especially bitter paradox because many of the Hmong came to the United States because their local village militias had cooperated with the CIA and Green Berets against communist insurgents in the Laotian civil war of the 1960s. Consequently, the Hmong have faced persecution since the communists took over Laos in 1975.

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