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New laws require workers' compensation in the marijuana industry

In 2010 a marijuana farmer decided to shoot a migrant worker four times, which resulted in his death. The migrant worker had complained about poor working conditions, and violence resulted. It is suspected that there are many other cases of abuse and violence of workers in the marijuana farming industry. In the aftermath of the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in California, state lawmakers are attempting to regulate the multi-billion dollar industry with new laws. New regulations will be in effect to limit abuse of workers, sexual assault, poor working conditions and will mandate workers' compensation insurance coverage be provided by employers.

Currently, the marijuana farm industry is not regulated. During the harvest season, a large amount migrant workers seek employment on farms. Because it was an unregulated industry, workers were able to earn untaxed wages. It is reported that some workers could make as much as $1,000 per week. While the cash is attractive to many, most migrants spend weeks in tents near the farms and endure poor working conditions.

New regulations will begin to take effect starting in 2018. The regulations aim to treat the marijuana industry as other agricultural industries in California. Farmers are uncertain about which regulations will be mandated and worry about the financial costs to implement them. It is suspected that the cash wages of workers will decrease in order for farmers to offer benefits.

Currently if a worker is injured working on a marijuana farm, they will not be eligible for workers compensation. An injury on the job can result in expensive medical treatment and loss of income with missed work. Once employers are required to offer workers' compensation insurance coverage to employees, workers will be able to file a claim to help recover financial losses related to the injury. Under California state law even migrant workers are eligible for workers' compensation. Although the insurance is offered to protect workers, it is often a difficult system to navigate and legal counsel is available to assist in the process. 

Source: times-standard.com, "State seeks to add protections for marijuana farmworkers", Will Houston, Feb. 27, 2017

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