"It's tedious, and it's hard, but it's also fun caring for a plant and making a living," Gina Monique says of working as a marijuana trimmer. Credit: Mykael Leigh

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Gina Monique, marijuana trimmer and advocate for the compassionate use of cannabis.

“I started smoking weed when I was a sophomore in high school. It made the day go by in a really interesting way. Then I started watching documentaries on the pot industry and learning about legal pot in California and Colorado, and I started to develop an interest in medical marijuana.  

“When I graduated, I decided to go to Naropa University in Boulder. I learned a lot about holistic ways of living. I was hanging out with people who were pretty much their own doctors. They’d make little potions and elixirs and say, ‘Take this.’ Whenever I got sick, I’d go out into the mountains and find fresh sage and mullein and different things.

“I ended up getting a job as a trimmer for the first time out there. A trimmer is someone who manicures freshly harvested marijuana. You have this really huge stem with buds hanging off, and it develops big leaves in between the flowers. All of that needs to be cut off. Otherwise, in your final product, you’ll have a really smoky burn.

“The work was casual, just in this local grower’s house. It was all legal. We had these things called trim trays that have a screen in them to collect all the keef, all the crystals that fall off the plant as you’re handling it. That can be used for other things, so it’s important to collect it. The work can get really boring, so we’d play a movie or listen to music.

Credit: Mykael Leigh

“I was there for two years, and then I’m like, ‘Man, I kind of need some support and stability.’ So I came back to Chicago for a little bit, until I got invited to trim again, at an outdoor harvest in Colorado. I went out there and lived the outdoor trimmer’s life. It was like a campsite, pretty much. You’re in the woods. We brought our tents, and we would have bonfires at night, and during the day, we sat in a tent and trimmed. It’s tedious, and it’s hard, but it’s also fun caring for a plant and making a living. There were maybe 12 of us, each making like $250 a pound. That’s radical, because in a capitalist society, you’re not supposed to make your money that easily.

“The owners of the grow operation were supercool and wanted us to be happy. So yeah, we’d roll blunts and roll joints and hit the bong and work all day. I wore gloves while we worked, but some people collected the pollen off their fingers and turned that into a hash and smoked it. I got pretty interested in learning more about growing marijuana, so I stayed for a while and learned how to do what the owners were doing. You have to have a mind for the science of it. I was like, ‘I want to pursue this industry.’

“I moved to Michigan, and I got legal there as a caregiver, to grow my own weed. The first patients I served were two alcoholics who were also addicted to pain meds, and one of them was my friend, and he was in the hospital with stomach ulcers. I was like, ‘Yo, I want you to be my patient. You like to smoke joints with me. This is what you need to get on.’ So we did that, and it was cool. One of them was a really skilled mechanic, and we got him working again.

Credit: Mykael Leigh

“Smoking my first legal joint was awesome. I got my medical card, and all my patients had their medical cards, and we all made a bonfire and celebrated. As a kid, you feel so persecuted for smoking pot, so doing it freely is really awesome. It’s important to me to do everything legally, because I have a lot invested in my reputation, in my family and friends. Imagine if my mom ever had to come visit me in a courthouse or something—it would be terrible.

“Sometimes you get that feeling that you have to come home, you know? So I did. I’m really inspired to be part of the movement here in Chicago. There are a couple labs and cultivation centers outside of Chicago that need skilled growers. I’m looking into working with them. I would like to eventually open up a holistic center, either to help patients get their paperwork processed and have them as customers, or with time, as we make the laws better, have it be a medicinal factory: ‘You need a lotion, you want a shampoo, you want some candy, you want an extract? Here’s your medicine. Here’s why it’s good for you.'”