I woke up on Saturday in my hotel room on Lombard Street in San Francisco, alarmed by the smell of smoke permeating the room. I ran and opened the door to the hall, but didn't see any flames. Suddenly I had a (nose) muscle memory of the fires that ravaged the Columbia Gorge back home, and turned on the TV to see if something in nature had caught fire nearby.
It was the first day of the 17 Northern California fires that have destroyed more than 3,500 structures, blackened nearly 200,000 acres, and has killed 29 people so far. The fires are yet to be contained, evacuations are ongoing, and fatalities are expected to rise. And while that's heartbreaking in its own right, the areas hit are home to tens of thousands of cannabis farms, and in many ways, these folks are being hit the hardest.
The California Growers Association, a trade group for California Cannabis Producers, reports that more than two dozen growers in Santa Rosa, Redwood City, and beyond have lost their entire farms. Another 20-plus farms were destroyed in nearby Sonoma County, which is home to between an estimated 7,000 and 9,000 cannabis farms.
While losing a crop of cannabis isn't on par with losing one's home, pets, or loved ones, cannabis farmers will be taking a harder financial hit than traditional farmers and homeowners. That's because cannabis, as a federally illegal crop, can't be covered under insurance, so there won't be any insurance company checks to help people rebuild. The loss of the cannabis crop means the loss of expected revenue to pay back loans, pay staff, and profits to pay for the living expenses of the farmers.
“Many farmers had invested a lot of money to bring their farms up to code to meet the state’s new requirements and now it’s all gone,” said one wholesaler to Forbes.
Even if a crop wasn't directly burned up by fire, it can easily be ruined by all of the smoke and ash. Right now it's “Croptober,” the month when plants grown outdoors are harvested, so the buds are fully formed and most vulnerable to the smoke that can ruin its smell and taste. Ash can also be a plant killer, as it contains compounds and organic acids that can be absorbed through the leaves, resulting in serious and potentially fatals issues such as mold, mildew, and fungus.
The loss isn't expected to change the wholesale price of cannabis throughout the state, and some of the affected plants can be processed into oils where production methods can capture and remove some of the offending smells and tastes. But that comes with a far lower profit than what would have been paid for flower, putting those operations at risk for bankruptcy as well.
At this point in this terrible year, compassion fatigue can set in, and we are bombarded with requests to help financially support those who have lost everything in Houston, Puerto Rico, and on and on. That said, there are a number of groups working to raise money to help the growers, their families, and even the animals impacted. Green State has an excellent roundup of places where you can help.
The only time cannabis should be on fire is when it's in a bowl or joint.