Last October, multiple wildfires raged throughout Northern California’s Emerald Triangle region, burning an estimated 240,000+ acres and claiming forty two lives (fifty people are still currently missing). These fires also displaced over 100,000 residents and caused an estimated $1 billion dollars of insured losses. The Emerald Triangle is a grouping of three counties (Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties) where the majority of California cannabis farms are located.
How Emerald Triangle Fires Affected Cannabis Growers
Hezekiah Allen, the director of the California Growers Association, said that 30 to 40 percent of California’s cannabis farmers were impacted by the October fires. Not all of those farms affected were completely burned down, but the smoke and toxic particles floating through the air were enough to completely ruin cannabis plants. While it is still too early to decipher the full long-term impact the fires will have on cannabis consumers, the strain put on cannabis farmers is too great to go unnoticed.
Even as California enters the era of legalized cannabis, the Emerald Triangle fires brought to light some of the biases that still surround the cannabis industry. For most cannabis farmers – whether legal, in the process of becoming legal, or not legal at all – insurance coverage on cannabis plants is not an option, due in large part to the federal illegality of cannabis.
The Legal Cannabis Double Standard
With no coverage for losses, many farmers in the Emerald Triangle returned to their farms to water their plants and put out the remaining small fires that persisted. According to the owner of Frost Flower Farms, Ashley Oldham, while police allowed vintners to return to their vineyards and look after their crops, she and other cannabis farmers were “laughed at” when they asked if they could return to their properties. Cannabis farmers had no choice but to hike into their farms while avoiding the fires engulfing the land around them.
One Northern California based company, CannaCraft Inc., lost an estimated $1 million of cannabis and multiple structures in the fires. When the fires reached their property, CannaCraft were in the process of conforming to the new regulations for the now passed January 1st California legalization deadline. To compound their losses, CannaCraft was raided by Santa Rosa Police in July 2017 and had over $500,000 dollars in cash seized due to alleged city code violations. Other cannabis farms in California are facing the same concerns with changing business regulations and recurring impacts from natural disasters.
Things Will Get Better For California Cannabis Farms
The resilience of the cannabis industry at a time like this is clear. As state regulations are put in place and legal recreational cannabis sales begin, farmers will have to rebuild and replenish and prepare for the multi-billion dollar cash influx expected from legal California cannabis sales in 2018.