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What It's Like to Be a Professional Marijuana Trimmer

For some it's a party, for others a calling -- fear of law enforcement is always around the corner. But someone's gotta do it.

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When you do a dry trim, workers are given either a small branch with buds or individual buds to snip. Usually the first step is to “buck” the plant. This means cutting off the buds from the larger stalk and separating the small fluffy buds from the larger, denser ones.

Next the larger buds get what some call a “haircut.”  The leaves are trimmed off to shape the bud and reveal the flower. The portion of the leaf that connects to the stem, the petiole, also needs to be clipped off. Some people call these “crow’s feet” or “crow’s toes,” because of their W-shape. The last step is to cut the stem of the finished nug as small as possible. If you cut it too close, a budlet may break off and you have to reshape the bud.

The finished product is placed in an unsealed turkey-roasting bag to be cured.  

A wet trim will pay you by the hour.  The going rate in 2010 was $20/hour.  The process starts as soon as the grower cuts down their plants. The cannabis is brought to the trimmers still on the main branches. Workers trim the buds right while it is still on the branch. You need not cut the leaves as close as you would in a dry trim because they will shrink when they dry. The finished flowers are then dried, hung up (still on the branch), or on screens that allow air to circulate around them. When dry, leaves that were missed in the first go-around are clipped off.

Cannabis grown outdoors usually get dry-trimmed and indoor plants wet-trimmed. It’s up to the growers. If they want to move their product as soon as possible, then they will do a wet trim.

One advantage of dry trimming is that  the work can be rationed out over time.  Growers can decide to trim part of their crop and save the rest to trim later (after they’ve generated some cash flow). Another advantage: dry-trimmed cannabis is ready to be used immediately.

Some say that a wet trim, because it involves less handling of the flowers, results in a better final product.

Wet trimming happens year round, and is generally done in an extremely busy couple of days. You sit for hours in a chair, scissors in hand, using the same repetitive motion. You are fed and provided caffeine to keep you going.

The last trim gig I had took two intense days. The grower who oversaw it had a room in the house, but never stayed there. The two residents (who had done most of the work during the growing cycle) left each morning for professional jobs in the city, while 13 temps in their basement finished off 50 plants.

A wet trim is advantageous for a worker who doesn’t go very fast because you are paid by the hour, not the amount you finish. Also, it appears that wet-trimming is less likely to trigger allergic reactions.

Last season, a friend and I were both coughing and wheezing during a dry trim, and we assumed we had caught the same “bug.” My friend, who was sleeping where the cannabis was drying, was more symptomatic. As soon as we left the job site, our symptoms disappeared.

Reactions like ours are not uncommon, and a serious, scientific study of “cannabis allergies” might yield some interesting results. According to activist/author Ed Rosenthal, “I have received hundreds of letters over the years from people who were experienced users and then developed an allergy. These include wheezing and choked throat, extreme eye dryness or tearing, panic attacks, headaches and sweating.”

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