Ivory is good with a pair of scissors. She used to trim hair; then she trimmed pot.
Yes, trimming the buds of marijuana plants has long been a lucrative job in California — especially since the state made medical use legal more than 20 years ago. It was a perfect gig for those not interested in finding permanent employment. During the harvest season, Ivory and her friends could earn up to $200 a day — in cash, with no taxes and no social security. It only lasted about six months, and then you could travel the world or do whatever you wanted until the next harvest — and there would always be a next harvest. Now, as state after state legalizes and regulates what old-timers still call marijuana, the job of the trimmer, along with the whole cannabis industry, is going mainstream.
Santa Barbara has never had the reputation of Humboldt County, where scary dudes infamously ran around in camo outfits and carried AK-47s to protect their marijuana crops — but plenty of pot was grown here. So when Proposition 64 passed last year, legalizing recreational cannabis sales, county supervisors called a formal hearing. They wanted to get an idea of who might apply for one of the many legal “seed-to-sale” permits the county will require. Imagine their surprise when the room filled to capacity with sunburned tomato farmers, hipster millenials, and unfamiliar men in expensive suits who looked like they had just sped up from Beverly Hills.
Despite the fact that the federal government still considers cannabis a Schedule 1 drug, right up there with heroin, 29 states have enacted a variety of laws legalizing the substance. And now the plant, in all its forms, is becoming one of the United States’ fastest-growing industries, a mass-produced commodity that has entrepreneurs and corporate giants eager to get in on the ground floor.
What is this going to do to pot trimmers such as Ivory?
For marijuana growers, the first week of September historically has been the beginning of the harvest season. Trimmers, hired by word of mouth, would spend almost half a year doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and trimming. When marijuana was still completely illegal, trimming constituted an underground culture of workers, sitting at long tables, in backyards or garages, in trailers and barns, often smoking weed and drinking beer. The lucky ones were able to work on large, beautiful properties. One Santa Barbara trimmer, Matt, has such a good reputation that he is allowed, even today, to work from home, trimming up to five pounds of marijuana in his living room. Of course, not all growers were so laid-back with their employees. But everyone was well paid.
As it becomes increasingly legal to grow in this country, more weed is on the market, and thus its wholesale price is dropping. Before Prop. 64, the market value went as high as $3,000 a pound. Now, it ranges from $1,600 to $2,000. Next year, some experts say, the value could fall by half again. Wages for trimmers, therefore, will also go down.
“Trimming marijuana is menial work that has been well remunerated because of the bizarre legal status of marijuana,” one longtime industry expert said.
“But that status is changing rapidly. It’s going to destroy the job as trimmers know it.”