Jobs in the Weedconomy: The Trimmer

As far as repetitive gigs go, cutting buds from stems is as monotonous as it gets. But giving good trim is a skill, and it certainly pays better than minimum wage

As Colorado’s $1 billion marijuana market coins first-time millionaires and creates thousands of new jobs, we trailed five different workers to collate snapshots of this new world of legalized weed. This is the second job in the series. Click here to check out the first.

Enter the trimming room and the first thing you notice is the sound of scissors: snip snip, snip snip, snip snip. Everyone has headphones on, so the only noise is soft, repeated clips of the blades. There are five trimmers seated in a row, all essentially replicating one another’s activity, but each stands out as different: different body shapes, genders and hairstyles. Jeremy Adamson, 32, is in the mix.

A year ago, Adamson just needed some cash. He’d been a customer at Evergreen Apothecary for a few years, and through buying prescription weed he got to know the bud tender, who knew the owners, and they all jibed. He put out the word that he was looking for a job, and if it involved weed, all the better. “I always worked at fast-food places and gas stations—stuff like that. I could never get good work,” he says, hunching over a plain white table.

He’s wearing an apron and black plastic gloves, his left hand is steady while his right, gripped around heavy-duty, titanium-bladed scissors, is in constant motion—removing leaves and stems from heady buds covered in little orange hairs and a riot of trichomes. There’s a mountain of untrimmed weed to his left and a bucket of cleaned-up buds on his right.

For the year he’s been trimming for Evergreen Apothecary and the Colorado Harvest Company (the same owners), he’s spent six to nine hours a day in exactly the position he’s in now: back rounded, elbows resting on the table, right hand a blur, a bundle of weed on the table and usually jams in his ears. This looks like possibly the most monotonous job in existence, but for Adamson, it’s ideal. It also doesn’t hurt that he says it’s “some of the easiest work I’ve ever done in my life.”

But it’s more than that. To hear Adamson talk of the job, you get the sense that trimmers might enter a kind of flow state—that phenomenon that occurs when your skills are matched perfectly to the task at hand and the work becomes effortless. “It’s cool because you can just kind of zone off,” he says. “Once you get the hang of it, you know what you can and can’t cut, you just zone out. You forget you’re even doing it, and the day’s over before you know it.”

The money, too, was a welcome change from his previous gigs. Most grow operations in Colorado pay their trimmers an hourly wage. At Evergreen Apothecary and Colorado Harvest Company, pay is based on yield, about $100 to $175 a pound, or between $12 and $20 an hour, depending on how fast you’re working. “It’s a huge improvement for me,” he says.

As a longtime “patient,” Adamson figured he’d be smoking even more weed once he entered the industry, but the opposite has happened. “I used to smoke before work because I was going out to do something I regretted doing,” he says. “But this is something I enjoy. I don’t feel the need to get stoned here.”

Contrary to the popular perception that this job is just a glorified smoke sesh, the trimming scene here is nothing like it is in, say, Humboldt County, California, where people gather in tents in the woods with shake littering the ground and a haze of smoke permanently enveloping workers as they trim. Adamson shrugs, “Yeah. There are rules. It wouldn’t help much anyways.” He feigns falling asleep and says, “You wouldn’t get much done.”

Plus, the regulations don’t allow for any missteps. Here, trimmed weed is weighed not once, not twice, not three times, but four times throughout the process to ensure there’s no loss—from theft or otherwise. As with any of the jobs involving marijuana cultivation and production in Colorado, there can be no break or discrepancy in the supply chain.

Adamson puts the scissors down and takes a break to point out the buds that a neighboring trimmer is working on: “As repetitive as it is, there’s always different pot, which takes totally different methods.” Holding up the other bud, he says, “Like this, Bruce Banner. It’s rounder. When you trim, you can go around the buds. With this other one—I think it’s related to Sour Diesel—it’s airy, so you have to get inside, get the leaves out of there without chopping the bud up.”

“You want to make it look pretty,” he continues. “As a customer, I got really tired of seeing crappy trim. Now I get to be the finisher, make sure it looks good before people get to it. It’s something you can take pride in.”

The only time it sucks? When you get “sticky gloves,” he nods with a bummer look. “That’s a pain.”

Bryan Schatz is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He’s written for Mother Jones, Pacific Standard, GOOD and others. Follow him on Twitter @BryanSchatz.

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