California Wildfires Burn Weed
Two dozen cannabis farms have been destroyed by the wildfires afflicting California. Photo: US Fish and Wildfire Service

Two dozen cannabis farms have been destroyed by the wildfires afflicting California. Photo: US Fish and Wildfire Service

It’s bad enough that northern California has seen raging wildfires burn over 221,000 acres, killing 36 people, destroying 5,700 homes and businesses, cutting off the electricity of around 34,000 customers and drastically worsening air quality. Strong winds are currently exacerbating the situation, sometimes blowing at more than 70 mph. Some victims were burnt beyond recognition, with, as Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano attested, sometimes no more remaining than “merely ashes and bones.” Governor Moonbeam, known formally as Jerry Brown, declared a state of emergency covering eight counties when 21 sizeable fires were in evidence.

What’s really bad

If you want to feel really bad about it, you should note that two dozen cannabis farms are known to have gone up in smoke, a dreadful toll that might rise significantly as communications come back online and people return to the area. Estimates of the value of crops that have been lost range from tens of millions to a billion dollars. Derek Peterson, head honcho of Terra Tech, a grower and seller of cannabis in California, believes that cannabis farmers usually invest at least $5 million in facilities and up to $3 million in the crop. One cannabis farmer was awoken by knocking on her door at 2 am, escaping with her children before her home was completely razed 15 minutes after.

Particularly badly affected was Mendocino County, hub of California’s cannabis industry and one of the three counties comprising the so-called Emerald Triangle, from which a great deal of the United States’ cannabis originates. October marks the end of the growing season, so this was a disastrous time for fire to strike.

It’s worse for cannabis farmers

What makes the situation worse for cannabis farmers is that they often lack insurance because banks shun businesses selling a product prohibited by federal law. Cannabis-specific insurance companies have emerged, but they might only cover plants grown indoors. Cannabis farms also won’t get federal relief.

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, commented that some people had lost their life savings and many, their hopes and dreams. Even if the crop is not engulfed by flames, smoke can adversely affect the resultant drug’s taste, as it does with wine, with the product’s value depending greatly on its flavour and scent. As Allen put it, if cannabis is supposed to smell of lemon, but it smells of wildfire, that would be “a significant detractor.” Smokey crops are also more prone to such conditions as fungus, mildew and mould, which are bad for people’s health.

Background

California made history when it legalised cannabis for medicinal purposes in 1996, with recreational purposes following in November 2016. Sales will exceed $6.5bn by 2020, compared to $2.8bn in 2016. This has prompted what has been termed the Green Rush, with people hoping to enter the industry, abandoning grapes for cannabis.

There are believed to be between 10,000 and 15,000 cannabis farms in California. Josh Drayton, who speaks for the California Cannabis Industry Association, remarked that the destruction will prove itself “larger than anybody would hope it to be.”

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