Cannabis Industry Hit Hard by California Wildfires

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As wildfires rage across the state of California, it has become devastatingly clear who is in command.

“This is an example of nature in control, and we are doing what we can, but we’re not being that effective at stopping the fire,” explained Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Tuberville.

Another source from Cal Fire reported that firefighting teams had contained “zero percent” of the sprawling blazes as of Monday night, which at that point had touched an estimated 100,000 acres. An additional 100,000 acres have been scorched since.

Current reports state that 32 lives have been lost to the horrific wildfires, with officials expecting the death toll to rise as firefighters are able to reach more affected neighborhoods and possible victims. In Sonoma County alone, where the fires have done significant damage, nearly 300 people are reported missing.

Though the effects of the wildfires have been felt as far south as Anaheim, the lion’s share of the damage has occurred in the Sonoma and Napa counties, with Mendocino and Yuba counties also experiencing tremendous loss.

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Besides the scores of residential neighborhoods that have been reduced to ashes, businesses are suffering, too. From a Hilton hotel to big-box retailers in the fire’s path, few were spared from the destruction. The outlook is especially bleak for many of the region’s world-class wineries, a number of which suffered catastrophic damages.

However, it is another type of farm that will have even more difficulty recovering from the wildfires.

Though exact numbers are difficult to determine, recent surveys in Sonoma County estimate there are anywhere between 3,000 and 9,000 marijuana farms of varying sizes within county lines. With over 200,000 acres affected, there are likely countless undocumented grows affected by the fires. These growers stand to lose everything if the fires touch their property, and only some of it can be replaced.

While many states aim to treat cannabis like alcohol in their reform legislation, insurance companies certainly haven’t followed the trend. Wineries and other farms in the path of destruction will likely be able to claim a total loss to their fire insurance provider — a luxury typically not afforded to cannabis growers. Alternatively, outdoor crop insurance is generally not available at this time for the state’s cannabis farmers, though some have limited coverage.

Because this is the heart of harvest season, known as “Croptober” in the northern parts of the state, many farms stand to lose millions of dollars worth of product, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the nutrients, infrastructure, and staffing required to nurture the harvest to completion.

This tragic waste of a bountiful harvest couldn’t come at a worse time, as California’s growers prepare for increased demand after recreational sales begin Jan. 1, 2018 statewide.

Burned up crops won’t be the only cannabis affected by the wildfires, either, as another Marijuana.com report detailed yesterday.

Outdoor marijuana growers, particularly those in Southern Oregon and the Emerald Triangle, are concerned about the fires’ far-reaching effects on their crops. While there’s the obvious threat of fire destroying everything in its path, a surprising concern is the concealed sunlight due to the smoky haze.

In September, Brent Kenyon, veteran grower and owner of Oregon Cannabis Farms in Eagle Point, told OregonLive the smoke creates a “plastic layer” that suffocates the nearly mature plants. This lack of UV light can result in a smaller, less potent product — particularly in the critical end-of-summer flowering period. Furthermore, ashy smoke can contaminate the water supply, and while ash itself isn’t necessarily harmful to crops, fires have the potential to change farmer’s fields and yields drastically.

According to the California Growers Association, six of their 18 regional leaders were under evacuation orders. Analysts estimate that each acre of cannabis farm in the region is worth roughly $1.7 million.

Cover image courtesy of Bob Dass

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Used to write about music for XXL, Elevator, Complex, Genius, and a few other outlets. Follow @LongLiveTheDuke on Twitter if you'd like to read way fewer words by me.

5 Comments

  1. If this keeps up there is no way the dispensaries will be ready for the January 1 opening day of Cannabis sales. Here in southern California (San Diego) area we aren’t going to be hit as hard as central and northern California but I’m sure it will have an effect on availability and pricing. Sure glad I grow my own. I feel for the tens of thousands that will be affected, even down here in the San Diego County.

  2. The news has said before the fires that California had a sever over production problem. There was, according to the article 13.5 million pounds of capacity and only a 2.5 million pound requirement for the recreational use.
    This will be a problem with the feds.
    I would be interested in knowing the capacity now.

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