"This is like the calm before the storm," says Lisa wearily as she takes a few comforting puffs of her piña-colada-flavored e-cigarette.
It is an uncharacteristically quiet Saturday afternoon in the west Sonoma County restaurant where Lisa, 27, works as waitress. After her smoke break, she emerges from the kitchen and makes her way to the dining room, brushing off her apron and methodically running her fingers through her hair to effect a look of calculated casual. "When it's totally slow like this, I'm thinking to myself, 'Yay, I might make $20 today!' That's why I do the other thing."
That "other thing" is working as a bud trimmer in the county's thriving marijuana industry. As the harvest season for outdoor-grown pot ramps up, bud trimmers like Lisa are in demand. They groom buds for market, trimming off stray leaves and stems.
Because of the illegal nature of much of the pot business, it's difficult to gauge the size of this labor-intensive sector of the marijuana economy, but the work represents a significant source of under-the-radar revenue for local and migrant workers alike. According to a widely cited report by ArcView, a marijuana trade group, the state's industry is valued at $980 million. And as many people who live in Sonoma County know, there is a vast amount of weed grown here, and all that pot needs to be trimmed.
OFF TO WORK
Eva, 61, stocks her mini Igloo cooler with coconut water, organic Fuji apples, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a yerba mate drink for energy. She knows it's going to be another long day, at least 12 hours, and she comes prepared.
"The drive along the coast is gorgeous," she says. At one point in her two-hour drive to her job as a trimmer, she stops for a mocha at her favorite spot, where they put homemade whipped cream on top. Upon arriving at work, she has to get out of her four-wheel vehicle to open two gates. After the second gate, she lets her dog, Rosebud, out to run the long stretch of road that leads to the main property.
The home itself looks as though it's been carved out of wood by hand. Yellowing posters pinned to the wall promote concerts that have long come and gone. Curtis, the longtime proprietor of the enterprise, sits comfortably in the sunroom sucking rather fiercely on a large joint attached to a roach clip, itself attached to a long-stick; he looks a little like an aristocrat smoking from a cigarette holder.
Eva greets Curtis and assesses the work ahead of her. She places her Red Rooster scissors in a clay jar filled with rubbing alcohol, puts her reading glasses on and sifts through the lawn bag of marijuana buds that Curtis has laid before her. Eva needs to make at least $200 to replace two spent tires on her car. She looks at the clock behind her, which reads 9:10am. Curtis pays by the hour, not the pound.
A recent article in High Times listed "trimmer" as the No. 1 job in the booming pot industry. Considering that marijuana is now legal in Colorado and Washington state, and legal for medicinal use in 23 states in addition to Washington, D.C., it's not surprising that there's increasing need for nimble fingers to shape weeds into buds.
"Trimmer is a very popular job in the marijuana industry, and will become even more popular as more states legalize marijuana for medical and/or recreational use," says Colby Ayres, marketing manager for Hemp American Media Group, which owns and operates one of the many employment agencies that list legal jobs in the pot business. "Most dispensaries and cultivation centers need multiple trimmers to properly trim the large quantities of marijuana being produced."
Ayres says the qualifications are basic: trimmers must be 18 years or older, must pass a background check and must not have any felonies. Some dispensaries and cultivation centers hire experienced trimmers only. While the demand for trimmers in the legal and medicinal sectors is high, there's also demand in the illegal sector.