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Black Market Cannabis Raids Uncover Victims of Human Trafficking in California

Authorities and advocates say that helping these victims isn’t always a simple task, as many don’t admit to being trafficked or may be unwilling to work with law enforcement to bring down the smugglers and dealers who put them in their positions.

Back in May, nine suspected victims were arrested in an early morning raid in California’s Mojave Desert. As law enforcement executed an arrest warrant, all the farm workers were Chinese citizens who came from New York and tried to flee the scene.

NBC News reviewed the job listings, some of which didn’t mention specific salaries or noting that salary could be negotiated in person. The outlet was told by a translator that a Chinese woman had found her job. Another worker named Jin said, “I have no money. What hope do I have?”

The workers all stated that they had worked previously in the restaurant business before moving West. Many also mentioned the desire to visit their East Coast relatives. The workers were not paid and they lived in uncomfortable, cramped trailers close to the illegal grow operations.

One worker named Fang said she left her 8-year-old son behind in New York and described her living conditions, a trailer where she slept, as “very dirty, it’s very messy.” She also said that her employers had been dishonest about what the work would actually entail.

These workers were later charged with misdemeanors. Law enforcement said that they were responsible for maintaining 25 cannabis greenhouses. Around 1,000 lbs of the processed marijuana was recovered from them. Officials claimed that $8 million of quarterly revenue was likely to have been generated by the facility. Officials suspect that the facility generated $8 million in quarterly revenue.

Sergeant James Roy of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said it’s common for people who have been trafficked to tell officials they feel safe and avoid giving information on their traffickers due to fear of their own safety.

Attorney Xiaosheng Huang is representing the trafficking victims. After losing their job in hospitality, his clients sought work wherever it was possible.

Law enforcement officials in San Bernardino County have shut down nearly 1,100 illegal grow locations and more than 8,600 greenhouses in the last year, according to the sheriff’s department. According to a statement by the California Department of Cannabis Control, illegal cannabis seizures increased to $1 billion in Riverside and Los Angeles Counties during the past year.

In the statement, Director of the Department of Cannabis Control Nicole Elliot said, “This important milestone was reached through close collaboration with local, state, and federal partners and furthers California’s efforts to go after activities that harm communities and the environment, including water theft, threats of violence, elder abuse, and human trafficking to name a few.”

One of the reasons for California’s recreational cannabis program was to curb the black market sales and weaken the grip of drug cartels on the plant. High taxes and high entry fees have caused instability in the legal market over the years. Illicit growers and dealers are able to get into the illegal cannabis industry at cheaper prices.

The cultivation tax was eliminated by Governor Gavin Newsom earlier in the year. However, individual counties may still impose their cultivation taxes. However, many cannabis professionals believe the move isn’t a long-term solution, doesn’t go far enough to elevate social equity measures, or plainly that the move came too late.

Due to market saturation, higher demand than supply, wholesale flower producers are now able to expect a profit of $300 per pound. This is compared with $1,000 last year.

California is the state that legalized medical cannabis in the USA. It has also been the first to do so. We don’t know what the future holds for these continuing issues between legal and illegal markets.