Advocates reach out to Hmong growers in Trinity County

CaliforniaRecent years have seen ethnic tensions in the northernmost parts of the Emerald Triangle, as Hmong growers—immigrants from the Southeast Asian nation of Laos—have established themselves in local cannabis cultivation. This has led to civil rights litigation and a polarized atmosphere in Siskiyou County. But just to the south in Trinity County, a group is working to head off tensions by helping Hmong growers negotiate the transition to licensed cultivation.

Many small cannabis growers in California find the state and local regulations established for legal cultivation to be complicated and intimidating. We can imagine that they are doubly so for those who struggle with English as a second language. Now, an advocacy group has emerged in Trinity County to help Hmong growers come into compliance. This could help head off controversies over the Hmong being apparently targeted by discriminatory enforcement, which past years have seen elsewhere in Northern California's cannabis belt.

Bridging the cultural gap in Trinity
The North Coast Journal, based in Trinity's western neighbor Humboldt County, profiles the group, known as Conscious Cannabis Resources. 

The paper spoke to the organization's Victor Vang, himself a cannabis grower. "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 back-country.

Vang said that first-generation Hmong immigrants—many of whom arrived in the US seeking asylum in the 1970s and 1980s, facing persecution in their homeland of Laos—drew on their background as agriculturalists in a highland environment 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—provide 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 have chosen to come in from the cold and comply with California's new regulation regime, seen even by many white and Anglophone growers as burdensome. "There's a huge cultural clash," Vang told North Coast Journal. "There's always a barrier between government and the people... We try to bridge that gap."

"We're in a no man's land," added Vang, invoking Trinity's lingering Wild West respuation—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."

North Coast Journal also noted the lack of such efforts in supposedly more liberal Humboldt County. Said Terra Carver, executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance: "What we've seen across the board with the Hmong, Bulgarian and Latino populations is there hasn't been a lot of outreach." She admitted her organization hadn't had any Hmong or Laotian-Americans "come through our doors."

An online statement from Conscious Cannabis Resources in 2016 said: "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. 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."

Polarization in Siskiyou
An all too stark contrast to this progress in Trinity is provided by the situation in the county's northern neighbor Siskiyou. There is some controversy as to whether Siskiyou County is actually in the Emerald Triangle—its inclusion is rejected by purists who say the Triangle only comprises Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity. But certainly plenty of cannabis is grown there. 

The Sacramento Bee in December of last year reminded readers how Siskiyou's Sheriff Jon Lopey has emerged as among the most outspoken opponents of California's cannabis industry, appearing on cable TV show "Weed Country" and at Tea Party events to stump for rolling back the progress. And he's also drawn accusations of racism in his cannabis enforcement campaigns—in a predominantly white county that has seen an influx of hundreds of Hmong newcomers.

Despite these accusations, the FBI cooperated in one of his investigations that targeted two Hmong growers accused of a multi-state export operation last year. (The charges are still pending.) The Drug Enforcement Administration funded his enforcement efforts to the tune of $72,000 in 2017.

During last year's harvest season, Lopey induced the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors to approve a resolution declaring a  "state of emergency" over illegal cannabis cultivation in the county—although this has not been recognized by Sacramento. The declaration came just one month after a suit filed against the county by Siskiyou Hmong residents, charging both discriminatory cannabis enforcement and voter suppression efforts, was rejected by a federal judge.

A Los Angeles Times article on the situation in Siskiyou last September noted some pretty blatant 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 invoked the Hmong's past as opium growers in their traditional homeland of the Laos highlands. Making the discrimination they appear to face in Northern California an especially bitter paradox is that 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. So the Hmong have faced ethnic persecution since the communists took over Laos in 1975.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Graphic by Global Ganja Report 


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