A 2020 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that farming has a higher risk of suicide, depression, and mental health issues than other professions. According to Genine Coleman, the executive director of the Mendocino County-based Origins Council, California’s Emerald Triangle (Humboldt County, on the coast; Trinity County, inland; Mendocino County, to the south) has higher suicide rates than many other areas of California.
“What people are aware of is how many of them are hanging on for dear life and how many are literally crying themselves to sleep or waking up in the morning feel completely discouraged,” said Sam De La Paz, managing partner of GreenWave Consulting in Sonoma County. “That is well known, and that is constant, from Mendocino County to Sonoma County, from Humboldt County to Trinity County,” he continued.
Coleman and other industry insiders report that farmers have taken their own lives for similar reasons: the incredibly difficult and overly competitive business landscape in California that leads to depression. In many cases, farmers say it’s the creeping thought that their families may be better off collecting their life insurance than being subjected to the financial struggles of the current climate in California. “It’s a hostile environment to small business,” said Coleman. “That’s absolutely a critique of the licensing and regulatory framework.”
Large-scale cultivation operations are entering the market at alarming rates, making small businesses worry more and more each day at the competition becomes too much to handle. Thousands of cultivators, mostly small, family-owned businesses, have been prevented from entering the legal market over the part several years because of the messy, expensive, and restrictive regulatory system. Although California just recently unveiled a new overarching cannabis control agency, the concerns of Coleman, De La Paz, and the numerous farmers up north are bringing up serious ramifications that have already set in for too many people. Namely, those ramifications include high rates of depression and, tragically, suicide.
De La Paz believes there are steps that can be taken to fight the self-inflicted deaths, including:
- Simplifying regulatory compliance for small businesses.
- Cutting their tax burdens.
- Implementing social equity programs.
- Potentially capping the currently unlimited cultivation licenses around the state.
“This has gravely affected small legacy farmers … directly contributing to emotional fragility,” De La Paz said. “If tax reform doesn’t happen soon, then we need to create a fund from tax revenues that goes toward financial support for struggling small operators.”