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Trimming for Ramen



The starving college student is a cliché for a reason. Balancing work, school and pleasure requires careful fiduciary planning, or a good hole to stick your head in. Students unable to get parental support or government aid (or whose financial backing doesn't quite cover that college town rent) need jobs. Jobs!

The results of a survey recently released by the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research indicate that, perhaps unsurprisingly, many Humboldt State University students find employment in the marijuana industry to support their schooling. There's no doubt that Humboldt's agricultural fame is a (unsanctioned) recruiting aid for some of our starry-eyed hopes for the future. Of note, though, is the survey's determination that underground jobs, for most students, just aren't as lucrative as other kinds of work. That's not to say all marijuana jobs are illegal, as the study points out, and otherwise legal jobs (moving, cleaning, pet-sitting) are often paid under the table. But, well, the least common marijuana-related job students admitted to was working at a dispensary.

In 2013, an HSU economics student, with help from HIIMR, sent a survey to more than 2,000 students asking them to explain their role, if any, in the marijuana industry over the previous 12 months. That could include owning or operating a grow, trimming, making concentrates or marijuana food, housesitting or guarding grows and other tasks. Because of the potentially illegal nature of the students' work, the institute was careful to keep respondents' identities secret.

More than 500 students replied to the survey — a 24 percent response rate and approximately 6.8 percent of HSU's student body. And while the surveyors urge caution in interpreting the results (this is the first study of its kind, for one thing, meaning there is no baseline for student involvement in the marijuana industry), there are some remarkable responses. Some of the highlights of the survey:

• 17 percent of respondents worked in a marijuana-related job in the previous 12 months.

• 69 percent of those respondents were trimmers (though they may have done additional marijuana-related work as well).

• Two students reported working in 10 different marijuana-related fields.

• 19 percent of respondents who wanted marijuana work could not find it. "It suggests that it is not particularly easy to get employment in this sector," the report reads.

• 14 percent of respondents had both a marijuana-related position and other work.

• Students working in marijuana reported earning a median of $5,112, whereas students working non-marijuana jobs reported a median income of $7,407.

Information provided by the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research.
  • Information provided by the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research.

The survey also details student responses about where marijuana is grown, whether marijuana-related work influenced their decisions to move to Humboldt County, and what legalization would mean for them. Find a link to the whole study at northcoastjournal.com.

Most students who grew marijuana plants said they turned no profit, reporting that they used it themselves or gave it away to friends. And while nearly 40 percent of those who grew said they would probably grow more marijuana post-legalization, the vast majority of respondents said they wouldn't seek marijuana-related jobs after the crop is legal.

So why do students seemingly flock to marijuana jobs if it turns out they're not that profitable? Trimming, in particular, is "sticky, tedious labor" in the words of the survey authors, not to mention risky and without the oversight of labor laws.

Is it marijuana's counter-culture allure that drives 17 percent of students to work in the field? College is an experimenting ground for the marijuana-curious. Walk through Redwood Third on any afternoon (well, when school's back in session), and the evidence will be in the air. Maybe trimming's appealing because you can smoke on the job, or because it seems more rebellious than punching a clock. Maybe people are in it for the work-trade — access to primo bud being more valuable than cash.

HSU, lacking an agriculture department, is more likely to attract hobbyists. Who knows how many seedlings wither under a Bob Marley poster in the dark, damp confines of a Canyon dorm room, despite the loving hand of a newly liberated youngster? That intern-level weed will make for a good story someday, and maybe some friends. But apparently, most students aren't interested in career marijuana — probably wise during a time of industry uncertainty. 

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