Months after a Times investigation into corrupt and deadly cannabis industry, state leaders signal a crackdown

Lights hanging over cannabis plants.
Cannabis plants grow inside a greenhouse at an illicit facility in Mendocino County.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Jan. 30.

Cannabis has become a multibillion-dollar industry in California, but some parts of that green machine could face new scrutiny from state lawmakers.

Last year, the L.A. Times published Legal Weed, Broken Promises, a series examining the fallout of California’s recreational cannabis legalization in 2016. Times reporters uncovered political corruption, an increase in illegal cultivation, rampant wage theft, and hazardous, sometimes deadly conditions for workers.


Now, some legislators have signaled plans to examine corruption and working conditions within the industry, which one referred to as the “Wild, Wild West.”

As my colleagues Paige St. John and Adam Elmahrek report, some leaders are also calling for “new laws to thwart labor trafficking in response to revelations of rampant abuses and worker deaths in a multibillion-dollar market that has become increasingly unmanageable.”

Last week, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Industrial Relations told Times reporters that the agency is examining the deaths of 32 cannabis farmworkers uncovered by The Times and never reported to work safety regulators. Many of the workers died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Workers told Times reporters they lived outdoors, without sanitation or sufficient food, and that certain employers had directed them to charity food banks or forced them off farms at gunpoint without pay.

The Times’ investigation documented accusations of exploitation against more than 200 cannabis operations, representing over half of licensed grows in the state.

The series also chronicled rampant corruption within city- and county-level cannabis business licensing, with some officials allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from business owners in exchange for permits.


The exploitation was something labor advocates had previously voiced concern about, noting that federal labor protections would probably not help workers when the industry is still illegal at the federal level.

“People dying from harvesting or processing cannabis — it’s just outrageous,” said Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the state Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. “It’s very important to me that we finally get a grip on this and start to crack down.”

So far it’s just words from Sacramento. The first step toward official investigations and hearings is committee and leadership approvals that have not yet happened.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Hilly Los Angeles has a lot of staircases, many of which offer pristine views — if you’re inclined to brave some major inclines. My colleague Jeanette Marantos did some serious walking-shoes-to-the-ground reporting to let you know which of the city’s difficult stair sets are worth the climb. Los Angeles Times


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The University of California says it will dock the pay of the roughly 48,000 academic workers who went on strike in December, citing state and federal law. Unions representing those workers don’t contest UC’s right to recover that compensation, but argue the university’s process for doing so violates state labor law. CalMatters

Cal State San Marcos will remove its founder’s name from a building for a past comment deemed racist. Back in the ’90s, state Sen. William Craven said migrant workers “are perhaps on the lower scale of humanity for one reason or another.” The California State University Board of Trustees last week approved the decision to take down Craven’s name — a move some educators said is important to foster an inclusive campus for the student population, which is now 50% Latino. San Diego Union-Tribune


The three people killed in a shooting on a quiet cul-de-sac in Benedict Canyon have been identified. Nenah Davis, 29, of Bolingbrook, Ill.; Destiny Sims, 26, of Buckeye, Ariz.; and Iyana Hutton, 33, of Chicago were fatally shot inside a car early Saturday, officials said. Four other people were wounded in the attack, which investigators said was not random. Police are still searching for a suspect or suspects. Los Angeles Times

Body cam footage shows two men standing in the entryway of a home with upset expressions
A graphic video showing the attack on then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, in October was released Friday by a San Francisco court.
(San Francisco Police Depatment)

After San Francisco police released body-camera footage showing the assault of Paul Pelosi, husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, experts weigh in on how the responding officers reacted. Some commended the officers’ approach, while one expert said their response was “lackadaisical.” San Francisco Chronicle


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As the Colorado River shrinks, green golf courses and artificial lakes are flourishing in the desert. That’s because the water restrictions residents face don’t typically apply to landowners who use private wells or canal water. But with less drinking water flowing into the Coachella Valley’s aquifer, some conservationists say it’s time to rethink “unsustainable decisions.” Los Angeles Times

Another winter storm system is moving through Southern California, bringing rain and snow. Mountains in Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties could get up to a foot of snow, while the San Gabriel Mountains are forecast to get 6 to 10 inches. The storm is expected to move off the coast later Monday. Los Angeles Times


Work-from-homers: Would you be more likely to go back to the office if your employer offered yoga classes, comedy shows and live music? With many workers still regularly clocking in from the comfort of their homes, some office landlords and company executives are turning to entertainment to entice them back to mostly empty buildings. Los Angeles Times

The San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl dreams were deep-sixed by the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. In a 31-7 penalty-filled rout, the Eagles secured the NFC Championship and a trip to Arizona, where they’ll face the Kansas City Chiefs. Los Angeles Times

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Today’s landmark love comes from Henry Schulte of Solvang: the Santa Ynez Valley.

Henry writes:

This photo is comprised of 21 separate images stitched together to create the panorama. Just below and out of the photo is the Santa Ynez River and Lake Cachuma — the primary source of drinking water for Santa Barbara and the surrounding area. The San Rafael Mountains offer numerous hiking trails, including to the top of Figueroa Mountain and only minutes from the town of Solvang.

What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

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