A Day in the Life of a Marijuana Trimmer
This is the account of how I accidentally went undercover as a marijuana trimmer for 7 days. You can call it stupid, but desperate times call for creative measures when you need to pay the rent.
Over the past few months, I have enjoyed walking by the ocean with my beautiful 22-year-old daughter while sipping our morning coffee. Most days we see a duo walking the opposite direction and smile in kind. A short elderly Jewish man and a 6’4” smiling Rastafarian with gold teeth. One recent day the Rasta and I were caught walking alone. As our paths crossed, we smiled and stopped to introduce ourselves. There wasn’t a romantic intention, my aim was just to connect with another positive minded person during such unreal times. We briefly spoke about politics, holistic medicine, food, and exchanged numbers. Both living in the area, a small affluent beach community, I didn’t give our connection a second thought.
After a few friendly exchanges, he invited me over to meet Harold, the Jewish man whom he stayed with to enjoy a home-cooked Vegan meal, being a self-proclaimed chef to a famous reggae musician. After enjoying the food and chatting with them both, Harold retired upstairs and the Rasta “Lion” (we will call him), and I began talking ID2020, reviewing bible verses, and discussing his business goals as he continuously took drags from his blunt. I have nothing against weed aside from the fact it reeks, but cannabis hasn’t been a priority for me since I was 19. He began telling me about his ideas for building an organic produce and cannabis farming operation in Jamaica, and I am not going to lie, it sounded like an opportunity that I was open to exploring, especially now.
Lion and I continued talking during the upcoming weeks about a few opportunities he was considering. He proposed that I come with him to an organic licensed cannabis farm up north. I knew if I asked too many questions I wouldn’t go, so I decided to throw caution to the wind. To be honest, I needed a shift in perspective as I felt I didn’t have much to lose. In retrospect, it was dangerous because I did have a lot to lose, such as my life.
What follows is a personal account of what I and many others have potentially experienced and continue to endure so that tens of thousands of companies and millions of people can profit off the plant known as Cannabis.
Day One — Arrival:
It was an 8-hour drive from the Southern California coast that I call home. Everyone at least mostly everyone I presume has heard of Humboldt County, the land of stoners and the lesser-known, gun clacking citizens that comprise the Emerald Triangle. I offered to drive as I had delusional thoughts of bringing my Pinarello to ride on my downtime, but Lion insisted on driving, so I was satisfied with only bringing my dumbbells. It wasn’t until we were on the road that I found out that we were driving a rental car. We took turns at the wheel as he unwittingly tested my driving skills and awareness of law enforcement.
We were to arrive at the gate of our destination at the time specified during our last stop for gas where we would be met by “Bob,” proprietor of the licensed organic cannabis farming operation. As we pulled up to a dirt turnoff with a large locked gate 45 minutes from any sign of humanity, there were two trucks, a man, and a black dog that strangely looked like Anubis. The men paid us no attention as we waited for 15 or so minutes without phone reception. Finally, as Lion struggled to hide his growing impatience, a truck followed by dust plumes barreled upslope toward the gate. It was Bob, who promptly hopped out of his truck to allow us into a world that in retrospect, would be much easier to enter than to leave.
The sun was setting, and we followed Bob’s lead back down the gradient from where he surfaced, with the sun going down and dirt from his tires making it difficult to keep up with. He was traveling around 25–30 miles per hour through the pitted twists and turns which I remember because eerily enough the Anubis dog ran between his truck and ours for a good 15 minutes. I had to glance at the speedometer being that the dog’s cadence and stamina seemed almost supernatural. About midway through, the dog dropped out which also took with it an odd sense of comfort.
After 30 minutes of driving deeper into the mountain, with darkness suddenly upon us, we had reached a house that had no lights on with a rusted bike and an abandoned mini school bus that time forgot out front. Upon entering it was revealed that the refrigerator didn’t work and there was no hot water. We were told that others would be arriving tomorrow to stay there with us, at which point we could address both. Lion staked his claim to the entire upper floor of the house, while I claimed a futon in the only remaining place, the trim room. In the meantime, we were given headlamps so that we could see and make our way around. Sadly, I would have rather not seen things like the shower and toilet which were a close second to a 76 Station and hadn’t been cleaned in what appeared to be years. With my underlying demeanor of being able to tough it out and seeing the good in most things, I continued to observe my surroundings and remain alert. After what was now going on a nine-hour trip and an unsavory arrival, I was simply happy to have a place to rest my head later.
Bob invited us down to his house to smoke with him, which was mainly just so that he could try to juice Lion for some reggae music industry connections and stroke his ego. I wasn’t interested in smoking, but I surely wasn’t going to stay in the Winchester Mystery House alone, so I sat there getting a contact high which probably did me good at that point. Little did I know that this first night would be the best, and a segue into a week of sleep deprivation, shitting in the woods, and working 12-hour days in a literal weed cloud to make $3.00 per hour. The worst of it all and hardest to deal with, however, would be the fact that unbeknownst to me I was merely a prop for Lion to transport drugs back to LA without getting stopped by the police.
Day 2 — Cannabis Farming:
I woke up early to a marvelous wilderness. The prior owner of the property was a Native American medicine man that had created a medicine wheel on the top of a nearby hill that I claimed for daily meditation as well as my place to take a sanitary and solitary shit off of the side of the hill. It just so happened there was a rusted barbell up there which felt like a wink from God and an ode to my passion for weightlifting. There were beautiful Nevada White Sage, Mugwort, and Lavender stalks in abundance, and with each inhale I found myself comparing my reality back home against this peaceful paradox.
Lion and I walked down to Bob’s to get the day started at 8:00 am. Being that it was pre-season in the picking world there was additional work to do before the plants would be ready for trimming, which due to my naivety and operations experience, I eagerly volunteered to do. I cut and removed an entire greenhouse of plants in 100-degree weather, carried 50 potted plants to a new greenhouse, and removed and wrapped an entire room full of dried plants for transport to the trimming house. I was trying to learn everything I could and be open to the experience. The two guys that lived onsite, “Mitch” and “Jong” an ex-Army guy, were perplexed by my drive to do their work for them.
Because I never asked questions before arriving, I didn’t know that the actual farming operations were above my paygrade. Nonetheless, Lion and a new guy Gary seemed motivated by my drive, and for fear of looking lazy and outdone by a lady, both agreed to break a sweat. Gary had been camping nearby for 11 days but would now be joining us in the house. Gary had a truly kind and gentle spirit, but over the days I would notice his niceness stopped at the first hint of questioning his radical CNN indoctrination.
In a Gestapo like fashion, Lion had established himself as the resident chef, using the groceries that I had paid for on the drive up in a sneaky bait and switch he pulled at the register. His demeanor and presence had discreetly started to shift and his communication and eye contact with me was becoming sparse. Gary, Lion, and I were joined for dinner by Bob the proprietor, who mentioned he would conveniently be leaving for a week or two the next morning. Mitch and Jong made it clear that they were not a part of the group and were setting the stage for the organizational dynamics to come.
Day 3 — Missing Person and Trimming
Bob came up to the house first thing in the morning distraught and seemingly a different person than the one I had met before. He was going on about his friend Daisy that was supposed to have arrived last night around 11:30 pm but never showed up, with her phone now going straight to voicemail. Daisy was intended to join us in the house and trim. I was beginning to gather that Bob was distraught because on the mountain you don’t call the sheriff and you don’t carelessly bring attention to your neighbors. It is not the type of community where you borrow a cup of sugar if you know what I mean. Bob’s planned departure was being delayed by the mystery of Daisy comprising his display of equal parts worry and perturbance. We all offered to help, which instantly removed us from having to hear anything more about it as he promptly retreated to his house. I remembered from my trip up the mountain, the labyrinth of steep roads and sharp ravines, and all I could think about was some poor woman’s car upside down in an abyss of dried leaves and mosquitos.
Mitch and Jong showed up to provide us fresh water to drink for the day and give us our trimming supplies: turkey oven roasting bags, premium gardening scissors, sorting baskets, and special tubs that gathered the kief. All the dried plants that we prepped the day before were provided to us as we needed them by Gary who was appointed as the weed warden, apparently Bob’s college roommate but now his minimum wage flunky. Although he seemed to have a close alliance with brainwashing and through conversation, I learned of an even closer alliance with his mother, I took an inherent liking to Gary a fifty-something lanky malnourished liberal covered in reggae album cover tattoos. He really couldn’t hurt a fly, almost certainly because he was just too high.
Later that afternoon as Lion, Gary, and I were entranced by trimming and super loud reggae, Bob entered the house to let us know that Daisy had been found alive, having veered off the road with two blown tires. She had slept in her car with her dog and hiked for help when the sun came up. Unfortunately, this caused a dispute between Bob and his neighbors of 20 years that lived downhill. Bob checked our trimming and nodded that mine was good, tired of reggae I put on my headphones continuing my work as he left to go pick up Daisy. As a cruel plot twist but also what I believe to be divine orchestration, I had no cell service at the house further testing my years of yoga and my resolve to turn inward. Luckily, a few of my audiobooks were downloaded to my phone, and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl was proving apropos.
A short while later a frazzled woman in her early 40’s walked in, overheated and in shock, I could tell the way she was flitting about and talking nonstop as she lugged in what looked like a years’ worth of supplies. She began to immediately unpack everything and cram it into the warm refrigerator. I was so happy that she was alive and uninjured that I didn’t think twice about being welcoming and attempting to bond with her. Although somewhat passive-aggressive when it came to her supplies, and a little too invasive with her conversation, Daisy would later come to be my angel on that mountain.
The day wasn’t very productive overall due to interruptions and getting acquainted with the harvest we were trimming. I was approaching the job from a quality control standpoint which made my work about 40% slower than the other seasoned trimmers that were by now crunching the numbers in their head. There are many factors and techniques which determine the rate at which you can get to a viable pound which is how a trimmer is compensated, with 95% of the elements ironically resting in the farmer’s hands. It would take a few more days, but Daisy would be the one to verbalize what all these guys already knew but weren’t saying, this crop wasn’t going to be profitable for anyone here. As Lion retired upstairs, Daisy and Gary went outside to their respective tents. I boiled some water on the stove to wash up with and made sure my blanket was free from miscellaneous weed trimmings and securely covering the squatter’s futon that would be mine for the near future. I went outside and turned off the gas generator, marveling at how many incredible stars were in the sky that I never got to see at home. I said goodnight to Daisy, thankful for that moment in time.
Day 4–6: Trimming the Nitty Gritty
Trimming would begin around 6–7:00 am when people would start to walk in my “bedroom,” at which point they would begin smoking. Everyone had their schedule and there was no one to micromanage our output only weigh it out every day or two, plus I think Mitch and Jong had surmised that we were working with garbage so they avoided the house as much as possible. This enabled me to start my mornings uphill at the medicine wheel where I would get ready for the day, study, meditate, and do a quick weight workout. This is how I endured the endless complaining from Daisy, the forced nonstop cloud of cannabis, and the dichotomy between Bob Marley’s music and Lion’s IG live chats about ethnic superiority that came out of leftfield at abnormal decibels.
The more hours that passed the more Daisy became increasingly vocal about her car and some other important items that were still stranded inside. Jong passed that way every day to run errands in the next town but refused to give her a ride. I felt for her, I did. I wasn’t sure who was in a worse situation her or I, it was clear that we were both trapped in a stoner version of Deliverance. With the rental car belonging to Lion and him no longer communicating with me, I started getting increasingly uncomfortable and didn’t bother asking him to borrow it. I had no phone service but was able to get one bar if I walked down to the house where Mitch and Jong were, which was more uncomfortable with Bob gone, and surely no accident.
After working hard all day and listening to Daisy go on about the injustice of everything taking place such as Bob’s fitting departure, Jong not refilling our drinking water, and everyone avoiding the fact that the plants we were working with would take even a world-class trimmer two full 12-hour days to yield close to a pound, I was starting to place my priorities on the experience rather than any material outcome. I decided to focus on what got me on this mountain to begin with, while walking down to Bob’s to hide behind a tree to have an impromptu phone interview. Answering interview questions seemed surprisingly easy at this point and even after a lifetime of being driven, I was more determined than ever to change my current circumstance.
On my walk back it was becoming clearer that I was going to have to strategize a way off this mountain soon. Closely situated by the house during my call I had heard Jong laughing at the television completely ignoring the fact that we had no drinking water at the house. This combined with his refusal to take Daisy to her car, let me ride with him next time he went to the store, and Lion’s strange change in behavior left me seriously meditating on what I was going to do.
As the hours passed, I began learning so much from Daisy. She spoke of “trimmigrants,” that ranged from international women being forced to have sex to get paid, growers calling ICE on workers after they have finished all of the work so they don’t have to pay them, to Hmong’s being scrupulously watched by an overseer that barters their pay. She had been a cannabis connoisseur for a long time but was sharp and had seen it all. She began schooling me on the inner workings of the cannabis game and was even bold enough to expose Lion indirectly while we were all trimming. She started breaking it down:
“What some people do is trim enough to buy a pound or two wholesale from the grower and then transport it back to sell retail to make more money, but it’s important if you are driving with someone else they know because, many times people will use unsuspecting people to appear less suspicious when moving pounds of weed. Those unknowing participants obviously are risking their lives and their freedoms by putting themselves in a position to go to prison.”
Later when we were momentarily in the room alone, I confronted Lion to ask him what the plan was since the trimming was not turning out as lucrative as expected. I was attempting to gauge how long he was planning to stay so that I could know my options. He told me it would be at least another week. I then asked him directly if he was planning on driving weed back with him and he said, “Yes, you know…I was,” failing to look me in the eye.
It was all now making sense to me. Lion’s cold indifference and his change in character from the guy I met by the affluent beach. I knew he had kids to feed so I tried not to personalize it but combined with his unwillingness to help Daisy with a ride down the hill in the rental car, I began to reassess my allies and opponents. To top it off, I had gotten my period and was not in the mood to mess around. The next time Jong came to refill the water I looked him dead in the eye and told him I needed tampons hoping to make him flinch. He countered with, “You are in luck I have some for bullet wounds.” Touché Jong, touché.
With Jong being a no go and Lion putting me in a position to become a drug smuggler, my only option left was to leave my entire suitcase, dumbbells, and bedding walk 2+ hours down Murder Mountain with no phone reception, only to hitchhike to the closest town and hope that there was a Greyhound station. This was not sounding particularly good. I continued to trim most of the day taking a break to wash my clothes outside in an empty water cooler. I hung them to dry on rolls of wire in the abandoned garden of dead plants behind the house, which little did I know at the time would be a free ride for Chiggers to infiltrate my suitcase for a permissive attack once I escaped home.
Night six Daisy and I stayed up late laughing as both of us were pretty much over the day’s events, only she had the advantage of being high. After doing the math on both of our production, she was averaging $6.00/hr and I was averaging $3.50/hr. Her being an expert and me being a first-timer didn’t matter that much, the weed was so dry, the stems that had viable flowers crumbled before you could put them aside. I didn’t know my next move, but it was nice to make a friend that I most likely wouldn’t see again. An acknowledgment from one soul to another, feeling gratitude for her wisdom that gifted my protection.
Day 7: The Final Countdown
I woke up to an increased sense of urgency to get the hell out of there. The lack of phone reception, pay, and allegiance was starting to psychologically affect me. Before I could even gather my morning items an older man whom I had heard referenced a few times entered the house. He asked if the dumbbells outside belonged to me and proceeded to tell me about his weightlifting days back in high school. Daisy knew him and offered him some of her old food from the refrigerator. It turns out he was the caretaker for another house where the Hmong’s stay. He seemed nice but worn down by life, expressing that he was close to having the house ready for the van loads which were to arrive later that day. This information was the straw that broke me, I was now going to be working alongside Laotian refugees.
I had to take a walk.
I walked down to the tree where I got one bar of phone service and I started to finally become unraveled. Daisy’s dog protectively had followed me and was sitting by my side. Quietly sobbing to myself, I swallowed all pride to reach out to two of my estranged half-siblings via text. After determining that neither of them would be a viable option I summoned all my will and pent up rage and marched straight up to Bob’s house with Daisy’s dog trailing behind. I knocked on the sliding glass, with Jong shouting aggressively in response. I opened the door and asked if he was going to town and if I could ride with him. He told me no, that he had personal things to do. I then changed my delivery and demanded that I had an emergency at home, I would ride in the back of the truck, and he could keep all my earnings. He said ok and to give him an hour. I walked back up the hill with the dog and felt partial relief. I still didn’t know how I was going to get home. I only knew I was going to get a ride to the next town where missing person posters and methamphetamines were common.
As I walked up to the house the farm’s owner Bob was already calling Daisy’s phone to speak with me. Knowing I was a sort of wildcard, I think he wanted to read my hand. I assured him I had an emergency and I needed to get home. He told me he would call the rental car company an hour and a half away and make me a reservation on his account that I, of course, would have to pay for myself. I thanked him hung up and called Amtrak. I got the routes of all the buses and trains I would have to take just to get to a major city, as a backup. I bought a ticket for a bus that left in three hours from the next town hoping that would be enough time. Right then Bob called back to let me know he made me a reservation. I don’t want to discount this act, because it was an act of kindness in a moment of dire straits. He texted Lion to ask for my email address which gave Lion the first excuse to initiate communication with me all week. It also clued him in that something was afoot.
With haste, my suitcase was outside packed awaiting Jong. I decided to leave all my blankets and the blankets and pillows I had loaned Lion. When I heard Jong’s engine I walked in the trim room and announced my departure to stunned faces, abruptly turning around, and rushing toward my old life with new vigor. As I loaded up the back of Jong’s truck without help, he notified me I could ride to town in his passenger seat. I hugged Daisy who wanted to stay, thanking her for being my angel. I small talked with Jong about politics and the military stroking his ego until we got to town. I unloaded the truck and got my rental. It cost more than my entire week’s earnings, that Bob made Jong give to me; I would have paid triple.
As I arrived home, waking up the next morning to 100 Chigger bites, I was grateful to have a renewed sense of hope and options that not everyone has. I thought of the Hmong’s that I gladly never met, I thought of Daisy that accepted that lifestyle without question, I thought of the beauty of life that even in the toughest of times can be found.
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