They come by the thousands every year, migrants who flock to California and its fabled North Coast in search of work among the marijuana plants. These laborers, or “trimmigrants,” help process untold tons of cannabis, some as legal medicine, some for the black market. And this year, as always, their return to the Emerald Triangle brings with it economic, ethnic, and political tension.
Some locals say the migrant farm workers are good for the economy – an economy that is already heavily dependent on marijuana. Others complain they see more transients, illegal campsites, and illicit dumping during the trimming season, which starts in September and runs through November.
During that time, local observers say they expect between 7,000 and 12,000 trimmers, though official statistics are hard to come by. Those numbers can pump a significant amount of cash back into the economy, says Tim Blake, owner of a cannabis collective in Northern California. Blake estimates the overall marijuana industry draws as many as 150,000 laborers, with each spending about $1,000 during their stay.
Immigrant workers bring a lot to the economy
“This trimmigrant thing has become huge,” says Blake, who founded the Emerald Cup, a North Coast cannabis contest taking place in December on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
But not everyone sees things in such a positive light. The recent terror attacks in Paris were committed by European citizens, not Syrian refugees, yet those refugees have taken most of the political blame – blame that has also spread to other migrants elsewhere in the world, including California.
In the Triangle, local critics complain that foreign migrant workers live on the street, where they loiter, camp, and beg. That, in turn, allegedly attracts unemployed vagrants looking for pot. At least a few local police support the theory, though they offer few hard statistics to back it up.
Gerry Gonzalez, a police chief in Mendocino County, told reporters that his city, Willits, has seen an uptick in complaints about transients during trimming season. The problem, Gonzalez says, is even worse in Garberville, a community in southern Humboldt County.
Emerald Triangle produces more marijuana than anywhere else
The Emerald Triangle is composed of three counties north of the San Francisco Bay Area: Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity. It produces more cannabis than any other region in the United States, and it supplies the black market in much of the rest of the country.
Residents say the transient phenomenon is real.
“I have been told, ‘This is the land of buds and honey'” when talking to transients, says Beth Allen, a Garberville business owner and MMJ grower.
The town has less than 1,000 residents yet sees a large number of transients each fall, according to residents. Angry locals have even started a political movement to drive the out-of-towners away. It will not end as they hope – the migrants are too intrinsic to the cannabis economy – but it could bring new attention to trimming, a phase of marijuana cultivation with little government oversight.