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Sexual Harassment In the Hemp Industry? No Industry is Immune from this problem says Jessica...

Sexual Harassment In the Hemp Industry? No Industry is Immune from this problem says Jessica...

Sexual Harassment In the Hemp Industry? No Industry is Immune from this problem says Jessica Arent.

There is a quiet hum happening in the Cannabis and Hemp space that no one is really talking about, but exists, none the less.There is an ideology that would suggest that because the industry is not yet regulated, it is not subject to all federal law and regulation, from OSHA standards to the climate in the work place, and today’s life altering hot topic; Sexual Harassment.

Sexual Harassment is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.

In October of 2017, according to a New Frontier Data/Women Grow diversity survey of 1,741 volunteer respondents, roughly 1 among 4 (27%) said that they have witnessed sexual harassment in the cannabis industry.

Not quite 1 among 5 (18%) said that they had personally experienced sexual harassment in the cannabis industry.

1 in 3 (33%) said that someone they know has personally been subjected to sexual harassment in the cannabis industry.

And yet, no one is talking about it. Not really.

If it hadn’t happened to me, I would have denied the magnitude of the situation.

It was my initial exposure to the industry for a company that was and is a male dominated environment. I accepted a role well beneath my market value, humbling at best, to get my feet wet and learn.It all started with a request to make my supervisor a cup of coffee.Literally.I recall being inside my head and flashing back to a bad scene out of a classic early 80’s movie, 9-5. I found myself wondering who in this decade actually asks his assistant to make him a cup of coffee, and this set the tone for the relationship. In the months that followed I was subject to uninvited advances, hostile language in which I was called names that represent my genitals and touched inappropriately.

The company did not have an HR department and my singular line of defense was to escalate the situations as they happened to the executive officers. Men. Uncomfortable and embarrassed, I took my experiences, which had been documented to them, to be told not to cause drama and return to work. This translated to a “take it or leave it, too bad, so sad” message.

While the relationship did not last and I did move on, the impact and experience did affect me and continues to affect me in my day to day dealings in this industry, and I am now hyper aware of the standards and accepted practices of employers and employees in this space.

In a story relayed to me by “Vera”, she worked for a very large Cannabis Cultivator in the grow.One of 3 women on a team of 25 for the season, she was subjected to constant harassment that ultimately led to an assault.The perpetrators (there were several) seemed to dream up ways daily to verbally assault her and the other women on the team which created a very hostile work environment in which she and the other two felt unsafe. Vera stated, “I am a single mom with a record, can’t work just anywhere and I needed the job and the money.I desperately wanted off welfare”.

In Vera’s account of the events of the season, despite her reports to the crew chief of the antagonistic and hostile behavior of her co-workers, nothing was ever addressed or done.The perpetrators simply stepped up their game and at the end of the season, Vera says, “they decided the season should end with a reward for all their hard work, and I was it.” Vera was raped.

While her case is now under investigation, the company denies any reports made by her to them and denies dismissing her complaints.

There is a concern in this particular industry, of calling out the perpetrator for fear of ramifications, both psychological and economic, many are not prepared to accept for blowing the whistle.It leaves one in question to the integrity as a whole, of an industry steeped in “health and wellness” that turns a blind eye, while such A-lister’s are going down in industries with far greater exposure and risk....

Could it be that the industry is perceivably still so new, so budding, that any risk to reputation of the great Green Rush is too great to call attention to such trivial matters?

I put out a request utilizing my social media channels to request stories “off the record” and the response was astounding.Brave woman after woman came forward to share a story of what had been done to them, or they had witnessed and each expressed remorse, shame and regret for her choice in how she handled the experience.

What seems to be a resounding theme is that the harassment does not have a position barrier.It starts at the top of many companies and trickles out in many cases to the seasonal teams. There are stories that speak to “good ole boys” clubs, and whispers and pats on the back, and there are stories that speak to rage and humiliation, and nowhere to turn. There are stories that span decades of those who paved the way, and paid the price socially, and passed down those “educations” to the new legal generations. There are countless stories of being laughed out of board rooms, CEO offices and jobs, when attempting to raise the issue and a resounding “don’t cause drama” disposition that seemed universal to the company leaders of the Cannabis and Hemp space.

And all of these stories, one after the next, in the age of hashtag ME TOO, begged that I keep their identities protected because the fear of the ramifications for the accusation was too great a risk...

Let that sink in....

We live in the age of pink hats and million woman marches, and equal rights and #metoo and dozens of women who work amongst us each and every day, with a smile and “one love” on their lips, keep a horrifying secret too great to reveal.

The question at hand is as simple as “WHY”? Why are our business relationships at liberty to violate our persons without recourse in the Cannabis and Hemp space when we live in a world in which some of the greatest leaders are falling off their pedestals for the very same infractions?

Is it that there are no clear regulations on a federal level and therefore there are no human resource rules and requirements that must be met?Are we exempt from integrity and character in business because the federal government doesn’t recognize the industry?Why is it then okay on a state level?Are we too taken with the money made and the taxes earned that a blind eye is best?Or is it simply that it is not yet truly exposed?

Although contrary to some reports, there is an assumption that many Cannabis companies are male dominated, leaving the industry vulnerable. Another assumption lies in the startups and the younger generations who do not have corporate business experience and therefore lack diplomacy in the work place in an effort to make it a more “casual environment”. Of the ten industry companies I called for the research of this article, seven stated they did not yet have a human resources delegate, nor employee onboard program that included a working environment policy, and yet of those seven, five had young women subordinates.They reportedly had “tough skins” and were “cool chicks”. They “get it” because “we are dudes...”

Sex sells drugs. It is a well-known fact and the Cannabis industry, like that of alcohol, does capitalize on that theory.

Darion MC is a social media influencer who achieves his business goals by prompting engagement that speaks to sex, bondage, sugar daddies and sugar babies and plays on the idea that if you have money and are successful, you can have any woman you want, more than one If you please, and fulfill any depraved sexual fantasy you might have. ‘The almighty dollar can buy you a holler”.

While to many this is clearly a marketing campaign to draw out the target audience for his business, it is also perceivably harassment of a sexual nature and offensive to many.

In an interview with him, he stated “Sex sells it and gets it done, and people engage. That is the point. I don’t necessarily believe everything I post, but it does get the people talking”.

With posts that suggest monogamy is outdated, and a man can have as many as he likes, while she can have none other than him, and suggestive meme’s that play on bondage, multiple partners and objectifying women, it could be perceived that he is pushing a reprehensible agenda and is using social media as a platform to do so. If you ask the man himself however, he will tell you that the art of engagement lies in pushing the folds of the envelope and prompting heated debates.It is how he gets the phone to ring.

While this industry struggles through infancy stages, so too do the standards of operations and the nature of the business.Many who come into the industry lack the experience in the corporate world to understand the ramifications.There is little to no consideration made to the employee experience by comparison to the income made, and therefore the issue is one of considerable proportions from the dispensary to the grow, with little regard to addressing or correcting the problem.

Focused on the regulations of the industry and the laws as they relate to prospering in the business, there is little to no focus on the employee relations or experience of the workplace and if not soon addressed and managed correctly, could be the downfall of many rising companies in the future.

For additional information and for resources, visit https://www.state.gov/s/ocr/c14800.htm

Jul 11, 2020 Jessica Arent

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