Every fall, waves of transient pot trimmers descend on the rural North Coast looking for work during the lucrative marijuana harvest season, and that annual influx — unorganized and sometimes unruly — is fueling widening tensions with residents just as the state’s pot industry is poised for a legalized boom.
Garberville has been particularly hard hit by the flood of seasonal pot trimmers — known as trimmigrants — who converge on the Emerald Triangle from September to December but often find themselves without a job or a place to live, straining the community’s resources and goodwill.
Problems range from loitering and littering to blatant drug use, theft, illegal camping, trespassing and defecating in public areas, said Beth Allen, a Garberville restaurateur and marijuana farmer.
Most concerning, people working in the business also have been killed and abused, while others have disappeared, never to be found, according to police.
Allen said she’s witnessed men fighting with machetes, people injecting drugs in the street, verbal assaults and strange burglaries, like one during which a burglar urinated on the victim’s bed.
“There’s crazy, crazy stuff going on here,” said Allen, who carries a Taser weapon for safety and began confronting the transients several years ago.
Some Humboldt and Mendocino county residents this year began circulating fliers — claiming to be from an “Office of Trimmigration” — that set out codes of conduct for would-be trimmers. They include keeping dogs on leashes, putting trash in receptacles and not using streets as toilets.
In Garberville, fed-up residents last year began to patrol the streets. They ask people to move along and tell them when their behavior is unacceptable. They also advise them on how to find medical and substance abuse assistance.
The problem primarily is with people who are drawn to the area by marijuana but then either can’t find work or decide not to work, she said. The town’s reputation for being permissive is attractive to transients and drug addicts, Allen said.
The Nov. 11 slaying of a Mendocino County marijuana grower has underscored the danger of working within the state’s marijuana industry, which remains largely underground despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 1996 and voters’ approval of recreational pot earlier this month.
Jeffrey Settler, 35, was beaten and stabbed at his rural property near Laytonville, an area known for wide-scale cannabis cultivation. More than 100 pounds of illegally grown processed marijuana was taken, sheriff’s officials said. Two of the people Settler had hired to trim the pot have been arrested on suspicion of murder and robbery, and detectives are seeking five others in the crime. The outstanding suspects are all in their 20s or 30s and hail from states as far away as Illinois, New York and New Jersey.
The use of migrant labor in the marijuana trade is not new. Trimmigrants have been employed for the industry’s seasonal harvest and processing rush for decades.
Hiring strangers, often from the side of a road or a parking lot, is a risk some people take when they can’t find enough people they know to help harvest and trim their pot crops, said Tim Blake, a Laytonville-based medical marijuana farmer, advocate and founder of the Emerald Cup. Settler’s family said he made a habit of picking up strangers and helping them find jobs and a place to live.