Marijuana cultivation is a cannabis career that presents a greater opportunity for higher wages, as it is obviously one of the most necessary processes in preparing cannabis products for sale. Aside from being a competitive position, marijuana growing jobs are not for the entry-level applicant.
For decades, lore surrounding marijuana growing jobs has intrigued individuals toward an underground industry on America’s west coast. Dedicated stoners and horticulturists made the pilgrimage to farms large and small to reap the financial rewards of an illegal industry. As medical legalization swept states like California with a number of provisions beginning with Proposition 215 in 1996, followed by Senate Bill 420 in 2003, the marijuana cultivation industry began to experience a boom in demand and opportunity therein.
Securing a marijuana growing job can be wrought with difficulty and confusion, as there is an overwhelming variety of specific legislation and regulation regarding individual states and municipalities. Large scale farming jobs can be especially hard to lockdown, yet rewarding opportunities in this field do exist.
Marijuana Growing Jobs: Basic Job Requirements
Depending on the setup of the operation, growers are essentially responsible for overseeing the cultivation of a plant from seed to harvest (and beyond). Whether the operation is taking place inside or outside, lead/master growers must have the experience and skillset to constantly problem solve as issues present themselves at every stage of the plant’s growth. This not only involves troubleshooting during germination and cloning, but protecting the plants against pathogens and any signs of disease as it matures.
Though marijuana growing jobs are unique in that they are not directly customer service related, oftentimes a team of growers and assistant growers work together with trimmers in order to cultivate a product that can be trimmed, cured and packaged all on site. Marijuana growing jobs require teamwork and a goal oriented mindset.
Qualifications and Compensation
Qualifications for marijuana growing jobs are commensurate with the level of responsibility for each position. This is a field that requires or highly encourages direct experience with cannabis, as well as a strong background in horticulture, including advanced degrees and professional experience in cultivation.
For assistant marijuana growing jobs, workers may gain much of their relevant experience by observing and supporting master/lead growers with basic crop upkeep, as well as more advanced tasks including the cloning and transport of plants. Some grower assistants start out as trimmers for a particular operation and work their way up through the ranks as they become increasingly proficient in cultivation. For some assistant growers, the process of harvesting mature flowers from the marijuana plants may be their most labor intensive task, so it is essential that employees can work long hours on their feet. Individual payout for grower assistants is less enticing than that of a lead or master grower, but there is a lot of room for wage increases as assistants are promoted to marijuana growing jobs with greater responsibility.
Master growers on the other hand must have reputable experience in grow operations. This position is the most advanced as cultivation goes and demands a confident, efficient horticulturist, as well as a strong manager of other growers, trimmers, etc. Marijuana cultivation on a large or small scale compels a detail oriented staff, so the master grower must be able to educate and lead their team of subordinates.
Though being a master grower offers the possibility of a successful crop and personal financial gain, the job is challenging physically and requires a dedicated time commitment. Some master marijuana growing jobs mandate high cloning and yield success rates, which involves constant maintenance. Wages for master growers can easily range into six figure salaries. This title is no joke and only the most qualified individuals should apply. Despite the stress associated with yielding a successful crop, being a master grower can be very satisfying work on an individual level, as it offers opportunities for major personal and company success.
Though marijuana trimming is technically a process that occurs after the growth and harvest of marijuana flowers, trimmers often work on site at grow locations and represent an integral aspect of the production process. Marijuana trimming jobs are often viewed as being tedious, so it is essential that employees can work efficiently and and with precision. Trimming jobs are more on the entry-level side of the job spectrum, so hourly compensation starts around 12-15 dollars per hour. Experienced trimmers who can produce a high yield of manicured buds often receive much more attractive wages based on their consistency and ability to work quickly. It is not unheard of to make over 20 dollars per hour as an experienced trimmer.
What Does a Marijuana Grow Operation Look Like?
As mentioned above, the path of a marijuana grower is not an easy one to nail down. Growing operations can range vastly in setup and cultivation process, resulting in different “styles” of growing that appeal to some companies and growers more than others.
Two of the most conventional pictures of grow operations involve a warehouse brimming with plants and bright lights and an outdoor farm with beanstalk-like marijuana plants as far as the eye can see. In reality, there is a lot of middle ground between grow operations. Since the majority of marijuana growing jobs over the years has been carried out through an illegal market, many individuals have used their own apartments, homes, greenhouses, etc. to produce a yield. In reality, most large scale legal operations occur in warehouses, where growers carry out their tasks under strict regulations based on city and municipal legislation. Outdoor farming does exist, however, it poses a much greater threat of the elements damaging the crop and providing inconsistencies in yield of the plant.
One of the major considerations prospective growers must consider when applying to work for an operation is how the plants will be grown. Some growers swear by soil, while others only use hydroponic growing systems. Either method can produce a successful crop, but there are fundamental differences that require expertise.
Soil vs. Hydro
Put simply, Hydroponic growing is the process of growing plants in an oxygenated water solution. Essentially, plants are cultivated in a nutrient-rich bath that some growers argue allows for a more precise and consistent crop. For experienced growers of this method, the appeal lies in a quicker maturation of the plants and a uniform crop. That said, hydroponic growing involves many more variables than growing with soil, especially upfront. For grow operations that are more financially limited, they may opt out of this method as it requires greater equipment and more labor.
Growing in soil is a process preferred by those who want to keep the cultivation process as natural and sustainable as possible. Though soil growing still requires a lot of upkeep, it demands less equipment and rigging than hydroponic growing. As a result, growing marijuana in soil usually takes longer to flower and mature, potentially leading to less visually appealing buds.
As growing indoors is the most widely used mode of cultivating marijuana, it helps to know what processes benefit an operation of this kind. As Robert Bergman’s book, “I Love Growing Marijuana” details, it is first and foremost important to make sure you are using the correct seeds for an indoor crop.
One of the most important steps to consider for your indoor growing operation is lighting. It is essential that plants receive adequate light, especially in the early stages of growth. There are several methods of lighting that are all viable options, it is simply important you choose one that allows your plants to properly photosynthesize.
Other aspects of indoor growing to consider include watering and nutrition of the plants, as well as maintaining a consistent temperature and humidity level. Air flow is also important for an abundant crop, which can be a complex operation depending on the dimensions of the growing space.
Some growers prefer to prune their plants as it begins to flourish, cutting off any dead or diseased leaves, allowing for the plant to focus energy on its healthy bits while allowing for greater light to reach leaves on the inside of the plant.
Outdoor growing allows for a potentially more abundant and natural crop, as the marijuana plants will experience natural light, weather and soil. The importance of the right soil can not be overstated. Developing a nutrient rich soil will help the plant to thrive among less than ideal conditions. A successful soil mixture fundamentally includes nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus throughout its growing life. A deft hand is required when balancing the proportions of the mixture as it changes depending on what stage of growth it’s in and what conditions the crop experiences from day to day. Bergman states, “This…mix…already has a pH value of 6, which is not too acidic nor too alkaline, making it the perfect pH level for marijuana plants.”
While outdoor growing is an attractive pursuit, there are many factors out of the grower’s control that can make this style of growing risky for those who do not have adequate experience of this kind. Temperature, light and other outdoor elements are unable to be regulated, forcing the grower to be proficient in advancing through setbacks and other predicaments that can adversely affect crops.
Pests are a major dilemma with outside growing as they can devour a plant is a miraculously short time. This is why daily upkeep is so important when trying to prevent intruders. When dealing with pests, natural and manmade repellents can be used to keep the plants from being taken over. It is best to use a natural repellent to avoid interacting the plants with any artificial, potentially harmful substances. Marijuana plants actually contain their own natural repellent known as terpenes. Though terpenes are most commonly associated with the pleasant smells produced from the plant’s glands that give certain strains like “Strawberry Cough” their name, the same smells that draw cannabis consumers in, keep some types of pests out.
When growing marijuana outside, it’s best to grow near an existing water source if possible, with opportunities for proper drainage so the plant is neither over nor under watered. On this note, it’s important to keep the plants’ water from being slurped up by surrounding weeds. Weeding should be carried out without the use of store bought chemicals.
The overview above is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to growing operations. That are a number of other important factors to consider that can only truly be learned through observation and experience.
When purchasing seeds, it’s important to decide what kind of strain you are looking for as an end product. Indicas, Sativas and Hybrids may be difficult to differentiate at the germination level, though their variations become clear as the plant matures.
- Indica plants are known for producing a powerful body high that is popularly used by medical marijuana patients to induce sleep and help to fight of nausea and bodily pain. As a plant, indicas grow shorter and bushier than sativas, with darker, more rounded leaves.
- Sativas on the other hand produce a cerebral, energized high that helps to treat patients diagnosed with anorexia, certain cancers and HIV/AIDS to stimulate hunger. Mature sativa plants grow taller than indicas, with longer, pointier leaves and a less bushy appearance.
- There are many strains of marijuana that are categorized as Hybrids, which are crosses between Sativas and Indicas, creating a more varied crop and therefore, varied effects.
The marijuana industry is changing, and fast! As legalization allows for more operations and marijuana growing jobs, the nature of growing conditions is subject to change. More patients and consumers are looking for marijuana grown organically, even though the FDA doesn’t currently label cannabis this way due to its federal classification as a Schedule I drug. As regulation increases, growers will have to roll with the punches as the illegal institution becomes controlled by government organizations. Be sure to visit government organizations, such as ca.gov or your local municipality to be updated on current legislation.
Regardless of any developments, the best an aspiring marijuana grower can do is take advantage of opportunities to work with marijuana, and complete any necessary education or training to help put your resume at the top of the list.