Migrant workers are making thousands trimming marijuana in California

They sit for hours at a time, hunched over tables with scissors in one hand and marijuana in the other. The work is tedious, but it pays well -– for now. This once mostly black market trade is slowly becoming more regulated, hindering the flow of quick, under-the-table cash.

Time melds together, the sound of snipping and sticky scissors clinking as they are dipped in jars of alcohol, before they get back to grooming the weed.

Most people sitting around this table in Mendocino County are migrant workers. They flood into the region during the cannabis harvest in the fall. They are the trimmers –- those hired to cut marijuana for hours on end. Many trimmers in the county looking for work this season have come from all over the U.S. and from all over the world, including Spain, France, Portugal and Switzerland.

“You want to get all the big leaf, and all the leaf, off the flower stuff so it shows in a beautiful way,” said cannabis farmer Tim Blake. “You really want to trim it perfectly if you’re going to sell it.”

Blake, 60, is a self-described activist who has been growing cannabis for 45 years.

Blake’s 155-acre farm is located across the road from his dispensary, Healing Harvest Farms, in Laytonville, California. The farm is home to 99 marijuana plants that look more like trees, standing between 6 and 13 feet tall. On average, he said, they produce 400 pounds of weed annually.

The towering plants are harvested every fall. Before the weed is sold, it has to be cut, dried and trimmed.

“The very best flowers are always going to be trimmed by hand,” Blake said.

“Why do we trim? It’s obviously financial motivation, for sure. It’s not fun work,” said Bishma, 31, who has been trimming weed for eight years. He goes by Bishma in Mendocino, but declined to give ABC News his legal name.

David Miller/Olivia Smith/ABC News
A cannabis trimmer works to cut marijuana in Northern California, October 2016.

California passed Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalized recreational marijuana for the state. But even before that, Blake’s medicinal marijuana farm was legal under state and county ordinances.

“It’s not like a free for all, grow wherever you want, whatever you want,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. “We certainly have limits and conditions and ordinances. Our citizenry understands that if they don’t want law enforcement to come to their house … then all they have to do is comply with the law.”

Blake, like other growers in the county, is restricted to 99 plants and has to undergo inspections on his property.

“For the most part, the federal government has said that if the state law is complied with, that the federal government will not get involved with,” Allman said prior to the 2016 presidential election.

However, despite the medicinal measures Blake has followed, and the recreational law that passed in California in 2016, the future is still uncertain when it comes to marijuana and legalization…

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