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The Trimmer Trade

The marijuana industry depends on bud groomers. What do the workers get out of the deal?

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THE RISKS

Because these women don't work for growers in the legal sector, there can be an element of paranoia attached to the work. Eva used to work in Covelo in Mendocino County, a Wild West marijuana town east of Willits.

"There were a lot of robberies and break-ins from the locals," she says. "Also, the police, if you had a certain amount of money, they would take your money and you'd have to go to court and explain where you got the money and why you had it. I stopped going up there for that reason."

"I never really got scared," Casey says. "I mean, there were a couple of instances where I felt a little paranoid. One time, I was alone in Alex's house trimming and there was a knock at the door. I looked through the peephole and didn't recognize the guy standing there. Alex didn't tell me there would be anyone stopping by, so I kind of hid in the corner until he went away. It was the first time I thought, 'Wow, I am doing something illegal.'

"Also," she continues, "[Alex] would have me deposit large sums of money in his bank account. I couldn't just put this wad in the ATM; I had to go into the bank with all of this cash and a deposit slip with the name of his fake business and hand it off to the teller. One time the teller just flat-out asked me what my boss did, and I told her this story about him owning a heating and cooling business."

Laughing, she says, "God that was brutal!"

A fire forced Casey out of the business. One night, she says, the news ran a story "about a warehouse in San Francisco that just went up in flames, and a 'bumper-crop' of pot was found. I didn't really think anything of it until I got a call from my mom about 10 minutes later telling me not to go into work tomorrow. It was Alex's warehouse that caught fire. So right then and there, I was out of a job." Which may have been a blessing in disguise, she adds. "It was nice not having to lie to people when they asked me what I did for a living."

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Given the growing trend toward legalization, the legal consequences may be minimal to none.

"The legal trouble trimmers could face is a difficult one for which to provide a concrete, one-size-fits-all answer," says Christine Cook, assistant district attorney for Sonoma County. "Each case depends on all the facts and circumstances. The prosecution of marijuana cases by this office which have no violence or other egregious factors is a low-level priority."

Aside from the legal implications, trimmers also can face occupational hazards. The work is fatiguing and can aggravate sinus infections. And, of course, you end up smelling like weed.

"This one lady I trimmed with used to cut a few holes in a trash bag and wear that while she trimmed," Eva says.

She drops her scissors in the alcohol solution and replaces them with another pair that have been soaking, thus dissolving the resin that develops through trimming the sometimes sticky buds. She changes scissors every 20 minutes.

"Curtis usually has really good weed."

Eva laughs, takes a gulp of her yerba mate and continues trimming.

THE PAYOFF

While growing and selling marijuana is big business, trimming is not. Eva remembers her work in Covelo. "It was a great gig! I worked 8 to 3, Monday through Friday, was paid cash under the table every day, and I had all this free time and was making more than enough money to live off of. But that was several years ago, and I was a single woman with little to no expenses, except my rent and a few bills. I couldn't do it today."

Lisa does it for supplemental income. "I'll work as many hours as I can, usually six to eight hours. I get paid about $200 a pound. I don't really have any days off, but my husband and I make it work. My son is happy and healthy," she says, her voice trailing off.

Eva considers trimming her sole occupation, but not a very financially rewarding one. "It takes a lot just to make a few hundred dollars, and it does get harder and harder, especially when I have to take care of people." She assists her 90-year-old mother, who also helps occasionally with Eva's at-home trimming jobs. "I am very low-income."

Despite feeling exhaustion, Eva remains positive.

"There are a lot of people who would be on the street if they didn't have these trimming jobs," she says. "It's nice that I don't have to get dressed up to go to work, but I'll only be doing it for as long as I have to."

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