In Spring of 2021, I journeyed to northern California, looking for work on an “outlaw” pot farm. The weed economy in California is quasi-legal, with the federal, state, and local pigs still enforcing draconian laws against marijuana cultivation and distribution. There are no rights for the people who work in the cannabis industry, no legal protections or framework respected by the authorities. Drive around Mendocino County for 10 minutes and you will witness at least one 4th amendment violation (illegal search and seizure), if not multiple. The pigs patrol the ground and the skies, with the county sheriff/deputies riding along with fish cops (Fish and Game Department Officers) in helicopters and spy planes. The local law enforcement in Mendocino spends 10s of millions every year on a special marijuana task force known as COMMET, whose civil rights violations are especially heinous and vilified by the masses.
Naturally, the intense oppression creates hardcore and desperate classes of lumpen/bourgeoisie and lumpen/proletariat. Lumpen is the term used to define anyone who is excluded from the legal economy, however the distinctions between owner and worker are not only present, but are much clearer and sharper than the mainstream bourgeois/proletariat contradiction. In the underground economy, there is no National Labor Review Board, and the only union is whatever gang, clique, crew or cartel you work for, if you are not independent. The result of the cop oppression is a heightened consciousness among the classes, with a high level of inter-class cooperation. But when cooperation breaks down the consequences are much more severe than in above ground work. Since I began working in the industry 13 years ago, I have lost friends, and relatives over debts, land/water disputes, and popping off at the mouth. It is rare to have a peaceful day in the rural portions of northern California.
The conflicts arise from several avenues, with the most typical being over lumpen bourgeois competition between growers. The land and water are finite, and there are many without a “legal” claim who mark out a grow in the mountains. Conflicts arise over pollution of the water supply, over debts for farming supplies (it takes 10s of thousands to start a light deprivation growhouse, and thousands for a good sized outdoor grow), and competition for buyers. The imperialist trend of expansion in the typical capitalist economy extends to the underground, as well as the trend towards monopoly. While existing outside the state’s purview (to a degree) the weed economy still upholds the theories Lenin put forward. There are conflicts between “legal” pot farms and “outlaw”, because those who want to modernize the industry have access to club buyers that the outlaws, on paper, do not. However the paperwork for becoming a legal pot farm is highly convoluted and excludes many outlaw growers. Some of the restrictions include not allowing firearms on the farm, and exclude certain previous convictions. This leads to a wary attitude towards inviting the government to certify the farm. However once one farm goes legal and announces they are growing, it gives them the protection of the state and more power/influence over the outlaw growers (all they need to do is make one satellite phone call to get your ass locked up). These lumpen bourgeoisie conflicts often involve sabotage, dry-snitching, and exclusion from resources necessary for production (water, gravel, road access) and erupt into shoot-outs that lead into feuds that go on for years at times.
The lumpen/proletariat (trimmers, farm workers, ranch hands) are often caught in the middle. Many are homeless, they get picked up in any urban nexus and brought to live in derelict 5th wheels or plywood cabins. Some of the workers are indentured involuntarily, forced into labor by the group that runs the specific operation where they are employed. They keep control of the workers through isolation in the dangerous rural woodlands, where there is no cell reception, and the dirt roads are a confusing tangle that are booby trapped and dead end in the middle of nowhere. Workers are informed that the nearest hospital is over 1 ½ hours away and that they won’t make it to the highway if they fuck around. Another way that these lumpen-bourgeoisie keep people isolated is language barriers, with the forced laborers often being from colonized minorities and indigenous groups whose languages (like Wixarika or Mixteco) are not widely spoken. These people are made to endure terrible conditions, with the hope the boss pays at the end, or at least lets them go home at the end of the season. They also suffer in the conflicts between the bosses, with some succumbing to gunshot wounds. But the most likely result for a worker in this industry is to be cheated out of a fair wage by their boss. So many workers don’t get what they are promised and the bosses never receive any consequence for their actions. While I worked I met 2 Chicano homeless trimmers from Porterville, Ca., they were brought to the mountain by a relative of one’s baby mama who promise $100/lb they trimmed. That was in September 2020, and as of June 2021 they had not received even half of that. The bosses trick their workers because there is an asymmetrical relationship to power and to knowledge.
There is no way to organize in a typical fashion for the lumpen-proletariat of the NorCal cannabis industry. Can you imagine trying to go on strike or picket a pot farm? Not only would the buyers not abide by the strike, the boss would violently retaliate because there are no consequences for them. This is the purest form of class struggle I have ever witnessed, the only answer for the contradiction between lumpen worker and lumpen boss is armed redress. It is my assessment that above ground means of class struggle are mostly useless to the underground workers. Without a workers’ state, legal options are not viable as the buyers and dispensaries would not consistently side with the workers in the disputes.
The only conceivable way to make revolutionary progress in the cannabis industry is for a Communist Party to make the effort to unite with the weed/drug production workers. The Party must be willing and able to seize the property of the illegitimate capitalists, and occupy the land alongside the united workers as they collectivize it. The difficulties in this are numerous, including the fact that no such party capable of this exists in the USA today, communication between workers is strained by the complications of terrain, language, and lumpen organization faction (Hell’s Angels, MS-13, Surenos, various cartels, etc). Any communist group attempting to organize the lumpen workers in the NorCal pot industry must be prepared for unorthodox struggle and inordinate violence. There would need to be established a clear proletarian political line to lead an armed force, ready to overwhelm the myriad of class enemies, whether lumpen or state.