What happened to the professional Marijuana easy gravy train?

So you want to be a trimmigrant? You’ve heard the stories – girl trims weed for a few weeks in October, makes $5000 and writes or travels for the rest of the year, every year. Or maybe you haven’t heard the stories. Maybe you’ve been following blogs and instagrams of adventurers from behind your desk job and wondering, “How the hell …?”

received_10154764823447013

Well, it turns out most of us are not independently wealthy. Somewhere along the line, we just got lucky, fell into an experience at the right farm, at the right illegal time. We found the rocky Marijuana trimming gravy train, and tried our best to stay on it.

That’s how it started for me anyway. I had never heard of trimming, and as a non-Marijuana user, I had no reason to run into anyone in that world. A friend of mine got the job – a “job down south”, he said, vaguely – and asked if I could watch his cat during his absence for a few weeks. When a bar-tending job appeared for him in Portland, my cat-sitting gig disappeared, so I jokingly asked “Can I have your job down south then?” I wasn’t expecting “Maybe. Let me see.” … 24 hrs later, I was pulling into the farm, still completely clueless as to what “job” I had just landed. I didn’t care. I had just finished walking the PCT, was riding the greatest spiritual high of my life (yet) and had absolute trust that anything the Universe provided was for the Greater Good.

That fall, I worked at 4 different farms over the course of 2 and a half weeks. The pay ranged from $17 to $35 an hour, depending on experience. I fell into the good graces of the main man on the first day and started at $20/hr. This was standard at the time. Smaller farms paid trimming by the pound. $200 a pound was not uncommon. Either way, at $20/hr on 12 to 17 hr long days, or several pounds a day, money flowed fast and easily, no experience needed, just tenaciousness and stamina.

I loved the work instantly. As a provider of medical marijuana, the outfit was legal by the laws of the time. Card-holding medical marijuana patients could defer their growing needs to a professional grower. 6 plants per patient, 4 growers per farm, so 96 plants per farm. We worked outdoors,  in forests of luxuriant, beautiful, 10 feet tall plants. I felt an instant kinship to these plants, a natural heart-bond. I learned about cannibanoids, turpines, CBDs, and how they match the human brain’s receptors. I saw how tinctures and teas made from the THC-free leaves can cure cancer, aids, glaucoma, etc. I understood the spiritual significance of the plant in human evolution, and bemoaned the mundanity with which most stoners approach the medicine. I became an advocate for the complete legalization of the plant, even though, to this day, I cannot myself partake in the smoking or eating of it – (see Tripping Balls). Little did I know I was supporting the death of the Golden Goose.

The outfit was legal and the plants were legit. Sort of. Any surplus after the medical patients had their need fulfilled was wrapped in vacuumed sealed packs inside dog food bags and driven off to more prosperous places to be sold on the black market. That’s how the farm earned enough to pay us so much. And that is why utter discretion about the work was mandatory. Helicopters flew overhead daily, sending most workers to hide. I have no doubt that our license plates were noted, checked and tracked. I never felt unsafe – exhilarated by the danger, maybe, but not unsafe. I felt I was “sticking it to the Man”, part of an sub-culture of free-thinkers, and out of “the System”. I left the farm with a fat $3000 envelop and an invitation to return the next year.

A few weeks later, the main man was held at gunpoint and all the weed was stolen. Complete ruin. The main man paid us all anyways, and new plants were planted.

The following year, weed trimming wasn’t even on my mind. By harvest time, I was working in Colorado restoring historical windows when an invitation came in from my favorite grower. There was a special plant – the Ice Princess – a rare strain of 100% Sativa straight from Jamaica. She was grown for ceremonial purposes only. She was sung to, praised and loved every day for her whole life since seed. And she could only be harvested by women who understood Her sacredness. I grabbed my Colorado coworker and little Soul Sister and drove straight to the farm where the Ice Princess lived. The main man assumed I was there for the general harvest and I thought, “why not? I can use a few thousand grands.”

But things had changed. Stress was about the farm and much money needed to be recouped from the theft of the previous year. A trimming machine had been purchased, so much of the outdoor work was already done. We were just there to clean up the buds. like this …

We sat 50 trimmers on long tables in a closed room under neon lights and the uncompromising eye of one of the main man’s watchdogs. The main man had much else to do and rarely showed, but, on his behalf, the watchdog made sure that the task was as abject as possible. Gangsta’ rap was blasted at full volume to ensure we could not chat – chatting makes you slower. Breaks were timed, greasy food was provided, and if you dared to stretch your neck, a resounding “KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE” greeted your elevated gaze.

Under other circumstances, I might have lasted longer, but I had brought a little sister into the madness, and I felt responsible for her well-being as well as mine. I explored the situation for a few days. I almost quit several times, then found silver linings. I could take this opportunity to learn to trim faster – the watchdog was, after all, one of the fastest trimmers I had ever met. I pleaded for different music, and different food. Some accommodations were made, reluctantly. But my greatest sin was to take a “personal day” off to harvest the Ice Princess. I was not just sticking it to the Man, I was sticking it to the main man. “Bobcat, I love you, but you’re causing trouble.” he said. “You can’t be coddled while everyone else bust their asses.” He tried to fire me, but I quit simultaneously – possibly making me the first person in history to be fired from a pot farm for instigating a rebellion. “What? Do you want a union?” It seemed ludicrous then … but that was then.

The little sister and I drove away that day with a fat envelop each. A few weeks later, the main man was again held at gunpoint and all the weed stolen. Once again, he paid all the workers. Those sure were crazy times, and I was done with that scene. I truly believed I would never trim again.

But that heart-bond the plant and I share magnetizes situations to my life. I never seek it out; it finds me and permeates my world. If I meet a man randomly, he invariably turns out to be a grower or a medical patient or one of the key campaigners in legalizing the plant. How is that? Is there a particular pheromone that people in the weed industry give off that I am particularly attuned to? When Colorado passed legal full recreation Marijuana, one of my best friends quit his daytime job and became an indoor grower. I became his trimmer. I had a whole room filled with veg beauties to myself, my music, my food, my schedule, $20/hr, 10 hr days, for a week … enough to hike the AT. A few months later, I fell off hiking the AT, knocked down by some mysterious disease, and the first job I landed was a trimming job in Maine. That job paid in weed, which I couldn’t smoke, so I sold it to a friend and made just enough to move back out west. The very definition of a trimmigrant.

jimtrim2

California, Oregon, Washington and Maine passed legal full rec. That’s right about when the gravy train derailed. By then, weed trimming had become a staple income in my wallet. If the Grand Canyon tourist season didn’t pan out, Colorado was only 12 hrs away.

Down the street from where my CO grower lived, a couple was shot dead because thieves thought it was a grow house. They had the wrong house, but that incident sparked severe and likely justified paranoia in anyone with more than a few plants. When the plants flower, when they are ready to harvest, the smell is so potent that even from a closed room with incense burning the whole neighborhood is alerted of what lurks in the basement. It is legal, but it is also highly prized, because other states still have flourishing black markets. The speed of harvest is a grower’s best safety. And young stoners are catching on. Colorado now has teams of professional trimmers. $15/hr. They bring enough people to do the job in a day. They work all over the city, a different grow house every day, and therefore have a steady income. But not me – I only had one grower, and if my load is shared with a team of $15/hr trimmers, my income drops from $2000 to $200 a harvest.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, many of the 16,000 growers in Jackson county lost the legal right to grow. Weed is legal, but farms and grow-houses cannot be in residential zones.  The main man for whom I once worked was able to place himself on a commercial zone just in time. He now runs the largest legal grow operation in the area and has a small army of full-time trimmers/operators on staff, whom he pays minimum wages.

And in California’s Humboldt County, once the scene of a mad Green Gold Rush, trimmigrants from all over the states are washing out in towns, jobless and penniless. In Eureka, they gather behind Wall-mart, on the Devil’s Playground, where hundreds of homeless hopefuls have set up camps. I only saw it from a distance, but close enough to break my heart.

After a sad journey through the fallen glory of what once was a lucrative black market, I once again figured I would give up trimming. But just then, Tabitha found me.

Tabitha is a placement agent. Unlike the loose assembly of trimming stoners I met in Colorado, she creates teams of people with skills and respect for the plant. Her vision is to provide adventures and artists a means to finance their dreams, and to supply farms with a sort of elite skilled labor force. She contacts farms, signs contracts and provides paychecks. She offers her teams available gigs, and we get to pick when and where we want to work. She charges the farms more than they pay their own employees, but we make the sticker price worth their while. She pays us $14/hr, much less than the black market, but how many jobs let you travel all over, sleep in your truck, work when you want, and surround you with free-spirited like-minded people?

So, I gave it a shot.

bucket

I did. I actually had to file a W4 and a job application for the first time since 1997. On site, we have to wear gloves and hair cover when we handle the plants. We have mandatory breaks and we pay taxes. I even have my own fiskars and a dedicated work apron. I am no longer a trimmigrant, I am a “professional marijuana processor”. Oh, that Man! He sure knows how to get you back into “The System”.

So, all that to say that if you are one of the people who contacted me, asking if I could “get you in”. Be aware that the gravy train was loaded onto a ship, and that ship has sailed. In those states where it is legal, trimming weed is now a job just like any other one. You won’t make $5000 fast, and it will likely not pay for your next adventure.

There are, however, still a few good reasons why I love doing it … but I’ll save that for another post. 🙂

cann

(top image by Katie, middle images by Jimmy James and myself, last image by Google).