La Raza Cannabis Association Organizes Farmers

La Raza Cannabis Association Organizes Farmers

California based activists are forming an alliance and support network for Latino cannabis workers.
California based activists are forming an alliance and support network for Latino cannabis workers.
pancho villa la raza cannabis association

Miguel Molina recalls growing up in a rural Sonoma County home where his parents kept a jar of cannabis tincture on the kitchen shelf. Cannabis stems, leaves and roots steeped in alcohol were packed inside a big container next to other home-brewed herbal remedies. And when someone in the family needed it, the cannabis tincture was applied as a liniment on sore joints and muscles.

Miguel’s coming of age with cannabis was not unusual for a child in a poor Latino community in California. Cannabis concoctions had long been a staple of Latin American folk medicine, and every part of plant was utilized for therapeutic purposes in Molina’s household. The grownups kept the psychoactive flower tops for themselves. “My father let me grow cannabis in the garden, ” Molina explained, “because he didn’t want his son dealing with criminals out in the street.”

The familial connection to the herb has stayed with Molina, whose bold, baritone voice is heard regularly on KPFA’s “Flashpoints,” an award winning investigative radio show, which he cohosts and produces in Berkeley. Molina’s on-air broadcasts cover a range of social justice issues, including the underrepresentation of Latino voices and other minorities within the rapidly evolving cannabis industry

Emboldened by California’s recent decision to implement state regulations for medical marijuana commerce, Molina and several colleagues announced in November 2015 the formation of La Raza, a multifaceted, aboveground support network for Latino farmers, trimmers, and other cannabis laborers.

In Spanish, “la raza” means race. It signifies pride for Native American and Latino heritage. Coincidentally, the word raza can also refer to “strain,” as in cannabis strain, the plant of focus for Molina’s advocacy organization. Much of Latino culture, he tells Project CBD, is rooted in agriculture. Cultivating cannabis and other plants is woven into Latino society, along with a history of subsistence farming and sociopolitical upheaval. La Raza’s T-shirts prominently feature an image of Poncho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary leader, smoking down on his mota.

“People think marijuana smoking came out of the 1960s when hippies discovered it. We [Latinos] have been smoking marijuana since the 1920s,” said La Raza director Molina, who knows all too well the racist roots of Reefer Madness and the repressive years that followed. Cannabis prohibition in the United States began as an anti-Mexican smear campaign and punitive anti-marijuana laws have functioned as an instrument of social control that continues to disproportionately target ethnic minorities, especially youth.

La Raza attorney and cofounder Jonathan Melrod says that La Raza will provide legal services for cannabis farmers and agricultural laborers, many of whom are undocumented. These are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the cannabis industry. They are in need of legal protection and expert counsel on complex immigration and employment matters.

But according to Molina, groups that advocate for rights of immigrants and migrant laborers are apt to overlook those who work with California’s largest cash crop. La Raza has reached out to the United Farm Workers and other Latino farmers in search of alliances that will boost union membership and empower Latino cannabis growers at a time when the cannabis industry as a whole is in transition.

Under new regulations adopted by the state government, California farmers can apply for a license to grow cannabis. La Raza offers assistance to Latino farmers who want to get a legitimate business license. But many Latino growers “are deterred from seeking a license because they don’t have papers,” says Melrod, “or they are fearful of being on watch list or they don’t have access to correct information about the law and what their rights are.”

As the green rush picks up speed, La Raza reminds us not to forget those who are doing the heavy lifting.

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