Cannabis Workers
3 min

How Regulated Cannabis Will Affect Workers

3 min
Legislation News

Expect legalization to create drastic changes in the way canna workplaces are regulated and product is produced. In the U.S. a legalizing marketplace may mean lower wages, but it will probably mean better working conditions. Across Europe, legalization is being seen as one way to crack down on slave labor as much as standardize product.

As cannabis becomes a legal commodity in both the U.S. and Canada, the production and distribution of the market becomes more structured. This means that the industry can start to produce higher volumes. However, by definition, this also means something else. The specialised workforces that have grown up around the industry are facing massive changes. Automation is making its presence felt.

This starts with the growing and curing process itself. So-called “bud trimmers” are probably the first on the line. The job is part of the curing and pre-sale process. Trimmers literally clip off leaves from the dried bud for aesthetic purposes. The trim itself is also sold separately. Usually, in the U.S. at least, trim is frequently used for edibles and concentrate production.

Now there are machines entering the largest state markets which can do the same thing more quickly and easily. Trimmers are not only being paid less but now must pay taxes. In California, in particular, this industry has also attracted “Trimmigrants.” These are migrant, seasonal farm workers who work the marijuana crop come harvest time. The impact of a regulated, and increasingly indoor industry, means that the writing is on the wall for these nomads.

Further, the impact of edibles on the industry means that a great deal of product now grown will not have to be trimmed at all. More and more crops will be made directly into concentrate product. With aesthetics stripped from the mix, processing time and labour obviously also becomes much cheaper.

The American situation is also intriguing because of what it could shadow for development of a European market. However, it is also very clear even now that legalisation and reform in the EU will be different. Different, in other words not only from the U.S. but also distinguishable from other countries.

The industry also, however, has its dark reputation. Immigrant farm labour has a strange history in particularly California. And marijuana is no exception. For all the highly paid jobs, there has always been an undertone of abuse. Legalisation and regulation of the industry will impact the worst cases. However, the American labour market right now is not a rights friendly place on any front.


According to an Interpol report published last year, the illegal drug trade posed many issues. Top-ranked problems includes the exploitation of workers throughout Europe. This is particularly true in the underground cannabis industry. This is one of the reasons that the move against the illegal market is so strong here.

Regulation of the industry via legalisation will remove the top issues of concern to the police and governments. Per the Interpol report, “the production and trafficking of drugs are key issues in the EU’s renewed internal security strategy, the European Agenda on Security 2015-2020."

However, it is not just law enforcement that is promoting the many disturbing issues created by the drug trade. It is legalisation advocates too. Legalisation goes a long way to curing endemic problems from regulation of the workforce that produces the drug to standards for patients.


Now that Ireland has moved down the medical reform path, eyes are on the other part of the British Isles. However, it is crystal clear that cannabis reform is taking a back seat to other affairs. Brexit, not to mention the survival of the NHS is a powerful drumbeat that is all consuming right now. That said, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. CBD is being regulated right now. There is legal medical marijuana already grown in the country (for GW Pharma). Although no reform has taken place here, or as a result of the same, the “industry” as it were is actually formally regulated as a pharmaceutical. This will impact all future developments in the UK in the vertical.
The idea of EU migrants (or any other foreigners) entering a highly paid canna job at any point in the value chain is not a popular idea.

UK Cannabis Trimming

That said, the UK has perhaps Europe’s worst history of employing illegal immigrants or enslaved workers in black market grow activities that are appalling. The legalisation movement is trying to capitalise on recent scandals as just one more reason to legalise the industry. While the human slavery problem so far has been worst in the UK and Ireland, it is not limited to it.


The legalising industry will begin to create standards just about everywhere. This will impact workforces. It will also impact product. Taking the black market out of the equation will help reduce the worst abuses. Mainstreaming the industry will also accomplish much the same thing. Those countries with federal reform now in the offing will also move ahead faster than the U.S. At present, there are no federal protections for workers in the industry. The state where this has been the most visible issue is California. Yet, even as the largest American state moves towards implementation of a recreational market, its workforce if not consumer protections remain light years behind what is going on in Europe.


  Marguerite Arnold  

Written by: Marguerite Arnold
With years of writing experience under her belt, Marguerite dedicates her time to exploring the cannabis industry and the developments of the legalisation movement.

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