Consequences in Employment

Recently, this post focused on Decriminalizing Marijuana (May 2021). Pot is not a new topic on these pages, see Mischaracterizing Pot Again (February 2020), which contains links to various marinjauna posts dating back to 2015. But, the recent focus was upon the insistence of some that pot is "legal," and the potential downside that may pose for the unwary and uninformed.
Days after Decriminalizing Marijuana posted, the British Broadcasting Corporation published "Chinese dreams on Native American land: A tale of cannabis boom and bust." In a related set of consequences, this is not about the use of pot, but the cultivation of it. The story recounts people losing their jobs in the midst of the great COVID-19 scare of 2020. That population is not small; by May 8, 2020 the job losses exceeded 20 million in the U.S. according to the Center for Infections Disease Research. The recovery has begun, but only just.
Pew reports that millions have left the U.S. workforce entirely (not employed nor looking). It notes:
"The decrease in the labor force participation rate for workers overall – from 63.3% to 61.3% – exceeds that seen in the Great Recession and ranks among the largest 12-month declines in the post-World War II era, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data."
The impact has been very significant. I struggle to understand how it was not worse. It seemed for a while that every business had either shortened daily hours, decreased in-house capacity, or otherwise constrained availability. It is astounding amongst that, the complete closure of the entertainment and travel industries, and more that the decreases have not been more significant still.
But, the recent BBC story recounts these "migrants who lost their jobs moved to a remote city on the Navajo Nation Indian reservation in New Mexico." They were attracted with the promise of work as "flower cutters." Advertised was "10 days' work for $200 a day, room and board included." They traveled to New Mexico and began the job in October 2020 with hopes of earning a living and sending funds to family as well.
It turned out the "flowers" were not roses, but the work was welcome. Three days after beginning, government officials arrived "in uniforms with badges." The workers were arrested, handcuffed, transported, and jailed. The "flower cutters" were "charged with multiple felonies for trafficking, conspiracy and intent to distribute . . . marijuana." It turns out that investors had faced losses due to "shuttered restaurants, spas and tourism businesses," and had turned to cannabis for economic relief.
The BBC article mistakenly says that "New Mexico legalized medical marijuana back in 2007." The press continuing to misinform with their "legal" label is hurting those that rely upon the news. But, of course, New Mexico merely decriminalized medical marijuana. It is still against federal law. The article also notes that "state laws have no bearing in Indian country." On the premise "that the Navajo Nation was a sovereign country," and could "control their decision," much was invested in farming hemp and marijuana. And, that brought workers, development, and attention. Some noticed "the air all around the small New Mexico settlement, Shiprock, hung with the smell of marijuana."
By summer's end, "there were 36 hemp operations in total." That is a fairly rapid evolution in a few months. Some landowners believed the crop being grown on their leased land was legal hemp. But the activity angered some. Local residents protested, and the situation grew tense. Slowly, "public opinion turned against the farms." Then a "massive task force" including police, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, and the EPA "tore through the farms and seized crops." Their tests supported that the crops were "full of marijuana, not hemp." They seized 60,000 pounds.  Federal law, apparently, still matters on reservations. 
Then there were allegations of "labor trafficking," and squalid living conditions. Some characterized the work as "exploitative," and lamented that the workers lacked other options. The story reports that charges were eventually dropped against the "flower cutters" on the basis of their lack of intent to participate in drug trafficking. The workers largely left the area, some returning from whence they came and others moving on to "Oklahoma - the latest frontier in the marijuana gold rush." The article similarly mischaracterizes Oklahoma as "legalizing medical marijuana in 2018."
Thus, there is evidence of the uninformed losing jobs for using marijuana and its byproducts. There is evidence of people being lured into employment related to marijuana and suffering arrest, economic loss, and as well as other consequences. Reporting on their tribulations, the press continues to push the disinformation that marijuana is legal. And yet, in the end it is likely that people facing unemployment and economic pressure will engage in such work. To some extent they are victims of the economic disaster of COVID-19 job suppression policies and then to the press failure to write and speak the subtle truth - pot remains illegal and dealing in it presents risks. 
It is troubling to see the misinformation campaign mislead so many to such detriment. 
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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