California Weed Farms Go Up In Smoke

The wildfires ravaging the state hit at the heigh of outdoor grow season.

California is facing its deadliest wildfire season on record with at least 40 confirmed dead at press time, and the tragedy is only compounded by the location of the fires: Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, home to some of the world’s most famous vineyards and weed farms. Authorities still don’t know the extent of the damage to the local cannabis industry, but so far more than 30 legitimate pot farms are known to be lost. Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, told The New York Times he expected that number to “increase significantly” as people are allowed to return to evacuated areas. Not only is California’s cannabis market a massive economy—estimated at around $7 billion—but the state also supplies the U.S. with a majority of its black-market weed, with undocumented grow operations tucked into the backwoods all over the region.

Several factors make this a potential worst-case scenario for many growers. The fires have hit right at the height of the outdoor grow season, and many farms have ripened crops in the field, waiting for just the right moment to harvest. As Josh Drayton, a spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association, told the Times: “A lot of these crops have not been harvested at all, so that means a total loss on those farms.” Others just recently harvested and were in the process of drying their herb. Even in farms not directly affected by fire, smoke, ash, and other particulates could contaminate the buds, rendering them nonconsumable.

Then there’s the impact to the farm structures themselves. Many growers have invested thousands of dollars in the past two years getting their buildings and property up to code in anticipation of California opening the recreational market this coming January. A fair number of those growers were attempting to step out of the black market and go legit; 54-year-old Andrew Lopas is one. Having grown cannabis illegally for decades, he moved to growing legal medical last year, and was gearing up to join the recreational market in 2018. In an interview with Reuters, Lopas details his losses: around 2,500 pounds of weed estimated at a value of $2 million; $10,000 in cash (remember, banking is illegal for cannabis-industry folks); 900 plants; trucks and other work vehicles; and an 18th-century farmhouse. “That was all our eggs in one basket,” Lopas said. “We were devastated.”

The horrible catch-22 in all this comes from the fact that—say it with me—cannabis is illegal on the federal level. So that means most if not all of these farmers are uninsured or have woefully inadequate coverage, as they do not qualify for traditional business insurance. It also means none of them can apply for disaster relief, unlike all the vegetable and fruit farms around them. It may be months before the true losses to the economy are understood. Tens of thousands of hardworking, taxpaying growers live in Northern California. This tragedy underscores the crucial imperative that we must get the federal government in line with the growing movement to legalize cannabis—though for some farmers it will be too little, too late.

stashbox@seattleweekly.com

More in Eat Drink Toke

Illustration by James the Stanton
Deep Purple

Purple weed looks cool, but is its beauty only skin deep?

Deli Bellies

Seattle’s deli scene leaves a lot to be desired, but new options look to spice things up.

On May 28, Phnom Penh Noodle House will be closing its doors after 30 years of Cambodian cooking. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Phnom Penh Noodle House’s Closure and the Loss of Cultural Flavor

The restaurant’s end may be a loss for Seattle foodies, but it’s devastating for the local Cambodian community.

Illustration by James the Stanton
How Many Drug-Sniffing Dogs Will Be Killed By Cannabis Legalization?

Spoiler: None. It just turns out an Illinois police department is full of doggone liars.

A special three-course dinner at Goldfinch Tavern is just one option for celebrating Mother’s Day. Photo courtesy Goldfinch Tavern
Mother’s Day 2018 Event Planner

Whether she’s an early bird or a night owl, there’s more than enough happening around Seattle to keep mom active.

Go Up in Smoke

It’s time to clear cannabis conviction records.

The Strains of Spring

These eight cannabis varieties will compliment your seasonal vibes.

Illustration by James the Stanton/@gnartoons
Blunt Country

Now that it’s springtime, let’s get high and go outside.

Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg serve up food chatter and laughs on Spilled Milk. Photo by Morgen Schuler
Laughing Over ‘Spilled Milk’

How the comedic Seattle food podcast became a tasty audible treat.

Illustration by James the Stanton/@gnartoons
Seattle 4/20 Event Picks

Your calendar for all thing stoner-riffic!

Illustration by James the Stanton
10 Seattle Bites Under $10

A quick look at some of our favorite diverse cheap eats.

Chef Daniel Cox shows off the urban garden on top of Quality Athletics. Photo by Morgen Schuler
Roof-to-Table

Seattle restaurants spice up their menus by adding fresh ingredients grown in their own gardens.