Marijuana trimmers impact Nevada County services
November 6, 2013
Two things have come to characterize autumn in Nevada County in recent years: resplendent tree-leaf transitions and an influx of young adults looking to assist in the vast harvest of marijuana.
Those migrant marijuana harvesters — commonly referred to as trimmers — have a wide-ranging impact on Nevada County, its economy and its services.
Agencies as diverse as homeless-assistance organizations, law enforcement and family resource centers are all affected during the months of August, September and October — months that coincide with the annual cannabis harvest.
"It's unfortunately becoming more regular this time of year," said Nevada City Police Officer Shane Franssen.
“I would like people to realize that culture comes with downfalls, as well. It’s becoming a business, and there is a potential for violence that comes with it.”
Nevada City Police officer Shane Franssen
PARTNERS Family Resource Centers has several Nevada County locations, including on the San Juan Ridge, a location known for its "alternative" culture.
"They see a huge influx and we do in town, too, to be honest," said Karen Wallack-Eisen, community school liaison for the Grass Valley resource center.
"We do see people in town, mostly looking for clothing here and info on the Food Bank," Wallack-Eisen said. "We are so used to it. You just kind of prepare for it."
Gauging the number of trimmers who descend on Nevada County is difficult. The Nevada County Sheriff's Office doesn't know how many people are growing in compliance with the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance, passed in May 2012, let alone those who grow outside its restrictions — either marginally or in vast defiance.
"It's noticeably more this year than any other year," said Peter Goering, village manager of Ananda, a more-than-700-acre spiritual community on the San Juan Ridge. "It isn't like marijuana hasn't been grown here every other year, but this year in particular appeared to have an uptick."
Typically, the San Juan Ridge resource center provides services to between 300 and 400 people per month, said resource liaison Diana Pasquini.
"It's higher this month," she said. "This month we are over 500."
Trimmers make use of the resource center's computers, laundry equipment and other services, Pasquini said.
"They do access food and warm clothing, but they are not doing it to the detriment to anybody else. There is plenty to go around," she said. "If someone comes to us and needs food, it doesn't matter where they are born. What matters is they are hungry."
Seasonal trimmers also help the resource center, Pasquini said, donating clothing, helping to clean and providing entertainment to children, such as music and juggling.
"Many of them want to give back to us, too," she said. "I'm going to miss some of them when they are gone."
While Pasquini said trimmers haven't had a negative impact on the services she provides, the same can't be said countywide.
Sierra Roots began feeding Nevada City's homeless once a week this summer at Calanan Park at the base of Broad Street.
In October, as the nonprofit articulated its plans to seek government approval to expand its homeless feeding program and make use of the Veteran's Building, more and more unfamiliar faces began to show up to Sierra Roots' weekly meals, said Janice O'Brien, a Sierra Roots member.
"They absolutely take advantage of organizations that help with local homeless people," said Franssen. "That is taking food away from and deterring some of our locals."
At one early October feeding The Union attended, trimmers outnumbered local homeless residents six to one.
"We were impacted pretty big," O'Brien said. "We discovered that there must of been 30 people that came. They were like a big horde of people. I hate to say that people can't eat if they are hungry, but we also know that many have money and they cause a lot of problems."
The Food Bank of Nevada County also annually sees an increased demand for its services between October and December, though its executive director, Toni Thompson, attributes the increase to the holidays.
"I don't operate on any knowledge of their situation. We don't get involved in the personal issue of any individual. If they are hungry, we feed them," Thompson said.
"I don't see the trend of marijuana growth as a Food Bank issue … But if anyone is smoking (marijuana), we ask them to leave."
Sierra Roots, which gets much of its food from the Food Bank, has moved its weekly feeding program away from Calanan Park in an attempt to ensure that the homeless people it fed all summer got the food they needed, O'Brien said.
"(Local homeless people) won't come if they see a bunch of (trimmers)," O'Brien said.
"There is a little bit of resentment toward them. They have money and cars. Some of them I have talked to are sweet people; they aren't all bad. But I don't like them coming in and taking advantage of our service and eating all the food."
A stereotype exists for trimmers. Sources The Union spoke with for this story painted similar pictures of young adults, in their 20s or early 30s, unkempt with alternative clothing and an unmistakable odor.
"When somebody walks by within 50 feet, you know if they have been trimming. Sometimes it's overwhelming," Goering said.
Franssen has plenty of interaction with trimmers, he said.
"It certainly increases my calls for service so that I can't do some of the merchant and business things I usually work on," he said. "There was one night when I went around contacting vehicles from all over the country. I contacted a good half a dozen vans and RVs that had two to five people in each one."
While Nevada County certainly has local trimmers, Franssen said the majority he comes into contact with are from out of the country, naming Israel, Canada, Great Britain, France and Guatemala as their origins. Some have locked themselves in public restrooms to stay warm and others have tapped into city power to charge their computers and smartphones, he said.
"They have cell phone service because they are searching the Internet," Franssen said. "Some of these people are clearly not down and out, they are just taking advantage of our services."
From a law enforcement perspective, Franssen's interactions with trimmers concern narcotic transactions, intoxication, disturbances of the peace, smoking and loitering.
On Oct. 24, a 24-year-old transient was jailed for hitting another man in the face during a altercation with "numerous" other transients on the 200 block of High Street, according to the Nevada City Police Department. The victim was hospitalized.
When asked if they were trimmers, Officer Scott Goin responded, "If by 'trimmers' you mean the huge influx of transients in the area in the last month — well, I cannot say for sure. My answer would only be an opinion. However, based on my training and experience, I would say yes."
Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster said his city doesn't see as many problems with trimmers as reported in Nevada City.
But Ananda Village on the San Juan Ridge has seen a rash of recent incidents, Goering said.
In the last few months, the spiritual community estimates it has had more than 500 pounds of apples stolen from its trees, numerous gas tanks siphoned and some instances of property destruction.
"It's a phenomenon that is happening," Goering said. "It just so happens that the vandalisms, thefts and gas harvesting corresponds to that same time frame at the end of the summer during harvest."
Goering also expressed concerns about trimmers' own safety, noting many are paid in cash that they carry around with them.
"I would like people to realize that culture comes with downfalls, as well. It's becoming a business, and there is a potential for violence that comes with it," Franssen said. "As this continues to escalate, the crime and violence continue to escalate, also. There is a backlash."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.