PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES
“They were essentially trapped on the farms with no way to leave. They didn’t speak English. They really had no idea what was happening or what to do. These people aren’t criminals, they are victims of labour trafficking.”
A Searchlight New Mexico investigation has revealed that an illicit cannabis operation that spanned 400 acres of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico has relocated to Oklahoma and is relying on exploited immigrant workers to provide the labour.
According to the report, the labourers come from a pool of restaurant workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 closures. The workers are recruited through “Chinese labour brokers” operating in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley and are reportedly often exploited and abused.
“A job harvesting marijuana can seem like a golden ticket. It could mean the difference between destitution and economic survival. It could also mean that they end up getting exploited and trafficked. Either way, they don’t have much of a choice,” said Erin Albright, a trafficking expert who formerly worked at the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime.
After the New Mexico operation was raided and shut down, with authorities seizing more than 60,000 pounds of cannabis, the organizers began setting up new farms in Oklahoma, where land is cheap and enforcement is lax, according to the report. They also received state-issued medical licences to operate legally.
Chinese labourers are being recruited to work on the farms to pay off debts owed to “snakeheads,” a type of Chinese smuggler akin to the Mexican coyote, the report states.
Published: December 30, 2020
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News