A look at students who work in the marijuana industry
Humboldt State University senior Brianna Chapman is the floor manager at the Heart of Humboldt marijuana dispensary in Arcata. On Fridays, Chapman spends the morning organizing products, preparing the cash registers and getting things together for the shop’s opening at 10 a.m.
“My grandma had a (California Proposition 215 card) as soon as she could and I watched how much it helped her,” Chapman said. “I was taking her to Chemotherapy every week and I saw the value in medicinal cannabis. It’s definitely a family business for me. My sister and I have both worked in dispensaries for the last five years.”
Chapman started worked in the cannabis industry right after high school. Chapman said the marijuana industry has always played a vital role in her life.
“I didn’t smoke in high school or anything,” Chapman said. “So, it’s kind of funny that I grew up in this stoner family, but I waited until I was fully ready.”
California Proposition 215 passed in 1996 allowing the legal use of medical marijuana. Since then, marijuana has seen a bumpy road on its path to legalization in California in 2016. Raids from the federal government and a back and forth on policy from the federal Attorneys General have contributed to an environment that left many wondering where legislation stands.
But throughout all of the confusion, the marijuana industry of Humboldt county remained.
Marcia Brownfield owns and operates Heart of Humboldt alongside her husband Danny. Both of them are Humboldt natives and believe in giving back to their community. Recently, they started a campaign to give $5 for every t-shirt sold to the Sequoia Park Zoo.
“I wasn’t sure the zoo would be thrilled to be associated with us,” Brownfield said. “So, I called them and said we would love to advertise that we are donating $5 from every t-shirt sale to you and they said let me check it out. They called me back and said it’s a go.”
Brownfield said she is from an older generation where marijuana still isn’t fully accepted the way it is with the Millennial generation.
“A lot of people my age, and a lot of educators and people in those jobs, are uncomfortable coming into a dispensary; it has that stigma for older people,” Brownfield said. “And more and more that is getting dispelled. It’s an innocent plant that has somehow been demonized. It has so much medicinal value that people shouldn’t think of it as a negative thing.”
Abel Anaya is another HSU student who works in the marijuana industry. Anaya is a junior majoring in journalism and works for Humboldt Legacy Organics in the processing department. Anaya said that the job mainly consists of cutting down plants and hanging them up to dry, cutting buds from the stem–or “bucking” as it’s known in the industry– and preparing hash, live resins and wax.
“I’ve been doing this for about two to three years now,” Anaya said. “I did it back home in the (Central) Valley, but being up here is a lot more complicated because there is a large number of plants we have to work with.”
Anaya said he used to work in the industry when it was still illegal, but was just trimming at the time. However, since he moved to Humboldt county he has found the vast benefits of working in the legal industry.
“Now that it is legal, it has been a benefit to me because I’m getting payroll now,” Anaya said. “I’m able to use my W2s and my taxes now. I can use it as a job now. It is opening up the whole job industry.”
Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level and students who get charged with certain marijuana offenses are at risk of losing their financial aid. The current question on the FAFSA form states: “Have you been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student (such as grants, work-study, or loans)?”
This question leaves some ambiguity for students in states where marijuana is legal. But according to Sergeant John Packer of Campus Police, their policy is clear.
“Literally nothing has changed for us whatsoever,” Packer said.
Packer, a 15-year veteran of the Campus Police, said they still cite individuals who are caught with marijuana. He said anything under an ounce is considered a misdemeanor, while anything over an ounce, as well as concentrates, could result in a felony charge. Anaya said the ambiguity in the law has given him some pause.
“If I get locked up I can ruin my whole college career,” Anaya said. “I’m not a bad person, I don’t have a criminal record. You could say I am an average person just working and stuff.”
The marijuana industry provides a legal and steady income for many in Humboldt county and Chapman wants to continue a career in it long after she finishes school this year.
“We want to make sure people are getting the products that are best suited for them because we know it works and we’ve seen how much it works,” Chapman said. “I am at a real place, at a real job. I pay my taxes, everything is so normal, it is so mild mannered. The worry is not nearly as much of a thing. Definitely not nearly as afraid as we used to be.”
Humboldt State University communication major Brianna Chapman stands behind the counter at Heart of Humboldt where she is the floor manager. Chapman said there isn’t a “one size fits all for cannabis” when it comes to the right amount or strain for someone. | Photo by Freddy Brewster
Madison White, an alcohol sober student at College of the Redwoods, makes a purchase from Humboldt State University student and floor manager Brianna Chapman on Nov. 16. | Photo by Freddy Brewster
Abel Anaya bucks down marijuana at a grow ran by Humboldt Legacy Organics. Photo courtesy of Abel Anaya