6 Surprising Realities of the Legal Weed Industry

Pot is more popular and more legal than it's ever been. Well, at least since lawmakers first started using it as an excuse to arrest Mexicans. It's been outright legalized in Washington, Colorado, and the city of Portland, Maine. Meanwhile, legions of legal medical growers across California and 22 other states have helped turn weed into America's biggest cash crop. Cracked wanted the lowdown on getting high the respectable way, so we sent a "reporter" up to America's Drug Basket: Northern California. He (or she) "researched" several legal grow operations and spoke with people at every level of the industry. The Nacho per diem alone nearly broke our budget, so we sure hope this is good.

#6. There's a Whole Industry Dedicated to Just Making Weed Pretty

Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty

Marijuana is one of those rare products where what you see is exactly what you get. Someone hands you a plastic bag full of pot, you hand them 50 or 60 bucks. The "advertising" begins and ends at, "Hey man, wanna buy some weed?"

For the straighter-edge among you, here's what a piece of quality medical marijuana looks like when you buy it:

Tommy Flynn / Photographer's Choice / Getty

You'll notice it looks like a nice, orderly green turd. Now here's how that pot looked right before it was harvested:


Like the turd of somebody who swallows their chicken bones.

Much of that is perfectly smokable marijuana, but it gets trimmed by an army of migrant hippie laborers. Up to half the harvested weight of the pot plant is trimmed off and either thrown out or (more commonly) turned into hashish. The only purpose all this serves is to make the pot look more appetizing (?) to a vast market of pot users who, we promise you, have never given a damn.

The migrant workers who make this happen are sometimes called trimmigrants, and every year they flood cities like Chico and counties like Humboldt in Northern California. Home Depots even put out baskets of trimming scissors with colorful advertisements as soon as the season starts. I saw trimmigrants hiking along the roadside, hoping to find some employment for the season. If they get picked up by a grower they could make as much as $200 per pound as a trimmer. The best can manage two or three pounds in a day. Some of the workers I met expected to make $8,000 to $10,000 in a three-month span, just listening to their iPods and manhandling weed. Who says college didn't prepare you for the job market?

There's a consequence to this extensive pot-beautifying, though: Everything you've ever smoked has spent an extensive amount of time in somebody's hands, and that means ...

#5. The "Safe, All-Natural Drug" Could Actually Be Full of Serious Toxins

Oliver Berg/DPA/Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images

The vast majority of weed -- even legal California weed -- is grown outdoors. And you know what else loves growing outdoors? Other plants.

Shocker, we know!

Anup Shah / Digital Vision / Getty
Also? Crocodiles. But that's neither here nor there.

Speaking of plants, you know what is one? Poison oak. If you're not familiar, it is a significantly less fun type of plant that blisters your skin instead of lending you an appreciation for the blistering flute solos of Jethro Tull. And in a cruel twist of fate, poison oak loves growing in and around pot plants. If it cross-contaminates in the wild, what can you do? You can't just wash it off. You could throw it away, but think of everybody you've ever met who's smoked, grown, or dealt weed, and now think of all the times you've seen them throw it away. If that number is higher than zero, congratulations: You're a police officer.

And then there are the pesticides! Nearly every farmer and trimmer I spoke with reported using (or smelling) pesticides on their weed. This stuff is very literally money that you grow: Farmers aren't about to take the risk of losing money to a bunch of bugs. Tests performed on dispensary weed by the Los Angeles attorney's office found extremely high levels of the pesticide bifenthrin in two out of three strains they studied. With pesticides come dead bug parts, which have to be picked out of the buds. And, by the way, those hands picking dead stuff out of your pot? They aren't particularly clean either. Trimmers seldom use gloves, and when you've got a bunch of people crammed in a cabin in the woods all winter, some of them will get sick.

Stone / Getty
Now smoke the tissue!

"A lot of people sneeze on the weed," one source a-bit-too-happily confirmed. "You can't really help it."

Scientists analyzing marijuana have even found traces of salmonella and E.-fucking-coli on "pharmaceutical grade" pot. But in the trimmers' defense, omelets are delicious and sometimes the faucets don't work.

#4. Weed Can Be Fairly Dangerous to Handle

Image Source/Photodisc/Getty

Today's marijuana is between two and seven times as strong as it was in the '70s. Female plants, whether they're kept indoors or outdoors, are hidden far away from the prying eyes of male plants. Deprived of glorious pollination-induced orgasms, the ladyweed squirts out more and more THC in a desperate, hallucinogenic mating call.

Wallace Garrison / Getty
It does look like it just got bukkaked.

But as Jeff Goldblum taught us, life finds a way. In pot's case, it finds ways to make its jailers pay for all the enforced celibacy. Trimmers I talked to reported developing weed allergies after lengthy exposure.

"I'd been trimming for two and a half months when I realized my wrists were constantly itchy. And it would get in my bra so my boobs got itchy too. After a while everything just itches, all the time."

Letizia McCall / The Image Bank / Getty
There's really no leaf that's good to rub over your body for hours every day.

Good pot (the only kind grown for legal use) is also filled with tiny crystals of THC called kief. The kief gets everywhere, absolutely everywhere. It stains your hands black. Within a few hours your fingers are coated with enough hash to qualify as a felony in most states. It's a "sticky tar" that coats your hands:

"You can't wipe your face, because every time you do you wipe more kief and finger hash into your eyes. It stings, and it makes your allergies go all crazy."

Another trimmer had this to say: "We had a couple people who developed really serious respiratory infections from inhaling that all day long. One girl who came back with me is still coughing up a storm. It never quite went away."

Dan Callister / Hulton Archive / Getty
One way or another, pot finds a way to make you cough.

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