It is a dark time for the cannabis industry in Northern California. Just as the business is about to gain legitimacy in the state, with the majority of voters projected to vote in favor of the legalization ballot measure in November, its underside is coming to light.

Two women were arrested in Northern California for allegedly holding four men as slaves and forcing them to work on their marijuana farm, as reported by the Associated Press. Two of the men were hired as day laborers and the other two kidnapped, according to Calaveras County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo.

The captives reportedly escaped the grow operation in July, after they discovered their captors planned to murder them when the harvest was completed. They were admitted to a hospital with bruises and black eyes.

The farm’s overseers were arrested on charges of kidnapping, human trafficking, battery with serious bodily injury and terrorist threats. That means that the firearms and roughly $60 million worth of marijuana found at the sight are the least of their troubles.

This report comes hot on the trails of several other disturbing revelations about the weed business in the Emerald Triangle. The Center for Investigative Reporting (in their outlet Reveal) released an exposé earlier this month.

The piece looked at a near epidemic of workers, particularly women, who have been sexually abused and held captive after going to work in the NorCal marijuana industry. While the report maintains that most migrant (both domestic and international) cannabis workers (“trimmigrants,” they’re called) report good experiences, the remote locations of these farms combined with the quasi-legality of the work has made for a breeding ground of criminal treatment.

“There’s a lot of wilderness here, and dirt roads and acres of forest,” Amy Benitez, a victims’ advocate in Humboldt County, told Reveal. “There’s a lot of nooks and crannies you can hide in. You add this criminal element to it, where there’s money, and there’s just more ways that you can abuse power and control.”

As legalization looms on the horizon, and several laws which would further regulate medical marijuana in the state are going to be enacted in 2018, many are concerned this might drive the seediest elements of the cannabis industry further into secrecy, instead of exposing them to the light. According to Reveal, many of the people who have been growing in Humboldt County for years are choosing not to sign up for permits at all, choosing to stay in the black market.

Photo via Flickr user laurascudder