Marijuana and Wildfires in California: This Is the Story

California needs rain desperately. Fueled by large trees in massive canyons, a combined 6,000 acres has now burnt down by 18 wildfires. The worst of them blazed through marijuana country, torching full drying rooms, budding gardens, beloved homes, and entire ways of life. The fire season could rage unhindered until the first heavy rains fall in December.

An estimated five times the quantity of marijuana that California needs is growing in the state. It is the largest domestic producer of cannabis in the United States, cultivating 13.5 million pounds every year. According to state economists, the fires should not affect local supply or prices. However, if fires continue, this is hard to believe.

Wildfire Impact on Emerald Triangle

The cannabis heartland of California, the Emerald Triangle, which includes Trinity, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties, is for now unscathed. However, weed is growing across the state now, and the growing epicenters of Shasta and Lake County are under mandatory evacuation orders today. Reports are emerging of destroyed rural gardens, and the region is hiding behind ominous smoke clouds.

The wildfires are further endangering the pot heartland of America, which is already under stress from insufficient access to markets, labor, and capital. The sheer ruggedness of the region’s wilderness, which lured weed growers back in the 1970s, is now what is fanning the fires, the worst of which are the Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fire.

Consisting of two distinct blazes, namely the River and the Ranch fires, the Mendocino Complex Fire is the biggest in the history of California. It has torched 300,086 acres thus far, and it threatens over 10,000 structures, leading to forced evacuations in areas of three counties. Residents on the ground say the fires are dying down now and not as concerning anymore.

Amanda Reiman, a resident in the Emerald Triangle and vice president of community relations at outdoor flower company Flow Kana, described the threat as passing. “We have no knowledge of farms being lost in Mendocino. We had a few farms evacuate last week, but they have all been allowed to return,” she explained.

“Have not heard any reports yet, expecting I will soon,” said Hezekiah Allen, from the California Growers Association. “We have some resources available if folks need help. Send them my way and we can see what we can do.” Reiman said that, “The fire has mostly moved into Lake County.” The area is mostly residential homes and gardens. Families in the stricken area are pleading for donations on GoFundMe.

Among the 248 structures and homes damaged or destroyed in wildfires, most had gardens of cannabis. Lake County allows up to 48 plants in outdoor gardens under its medical pot laws. At least three cultivators refused to leave their crops as flames raged this week just 20 yards from them. Their refusal to move caused firefighters to divert an air attack on the fire.

Mendocino Complex Fire

Officers arrested and cited the three of them. In the same area, officers focusing on looters allegedly arrested a migrant cannabis trimmer, who was driving around in an evacuation zone with two pounds of weed, a scale, binoculars, and a loaded pistol. The Mendocino Complex Fire has been burning for 13 days, injuring two firefighters. It is now 47 percent contained.

Of the 221 structures destroyed, 116 were residences and 105 other structures. It damaged 12 residences so far and 15 other buildings. Overall, the Mendocino Complex Fire has put 10,300 structures under serious threat. Experts expect that full containment will only occur next month, certainly not before September 1.

Carr Fire

The Carr Fire near Redding was coating the state capitol with white ash over the weekend, drifting south from the fire’s origins in the far north of California. This blaze claimed five lives already, including two very young children trapped in their great-grandparents’ house and two firefighters. It began 17 days ago and quickly made its way into the western part of Redding, a northern California town.

At least 1,077 homes succumbed to the Carr Fire. Another 22 officers and over 500 outbuildings shared the same fat. It damaged another 282 structures. The area, including the surrounding Shasta County, is the birthplace of some of the state’s top cultivators, including Alien Labs. Today, as at the time of writing, evacuations were ongoing in Trinity and Shasta County.

At least 173,522 acres burnt in the Carr Fire so far. Currently, it is only 47 percent contained. Three civilians and two firefighters lost their lives and it threatened 935 structures, excluding the nearly 3,000 it destroyed already. Unfortunately, nobody can say for sure when full containment is expected. It may blaze unhindered for a long time yet.

California Pot Market Up In Smoke?

According to Allen, the Emerald Triangle convulsed after legalization, but climate change is just torching it. After lengthy, multiyear droughts and predation from invasive species, the state has roughly 1.3 million dead trees, with countless dying of thirst. California’s fire season has been running year-round for several years now.

“I think these fires indicate that our planet is less hospitable,” Allen opined. “To try to frame it in terms of ‘move somewhere else’ is denying the scope of the problem we face as a species. Not to mention, the type of agriculture that takes place in ‘commercially hospitable areas’ is a driving force in these types of fires associated with desertification events.”

California is transitioning its $10 billion a year marijuana industry from an illegal market to a regulated, taxed one. Cultivators were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars already to comply with local and state laws and licensing requirements. Fire, along with toxic smoke damage, increases the financial burden on transition pot businesses.

Conclusion

Compounding the damage is the fact that, due to federal prohibition, the industry remains largely underinsured or uninsured. This week, the state licensed three more insurers for the tiny pool of state-accredited brokers of fire insurance for crops. According to the commissioner’s office, the North River Insurance Company, United States Fire Insurance Company, and White Pine Insurance Company will be offering covering before months end, offering surety bonds for marijuana businesses specifically.

Despite this, most farmers lack these products. Until now, these unregulated policies covered little at an exorbitant price. They frequently did not pay out. The first payout for fire-damaged cannabis crops, a payment of $1 million, occurred just this April. Still, with state expectations at producing five pounds for export per every pound grown here, the fires will likely arrest the slide in pot prices only temporarily.

 

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