Since Sunday, October 8th, the Northern California wildfires have claimed at least 40 lives, scorched over 100,000 acres of land, and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and business – and it’s still raging.
There’s been much talk about eviscerated wineries, but marijuana farms, too, have experienced devastating loss.
Unlike their grape growing counterparts, cannabis growers’ chances of recovery are seriously diminished by federal laws that deny their right to obtain crop insurance.
Cannabis cultivators, like 54-year-old Andrew Lopas of Santa Rosa, have watched their dreams and livelihoods literally go up in smoke. The timing couldn’t be worse. Lopas is amongst many farmers who were poised to supply cannabis to the newly minted recreational market.
After 40 years growing pot ‘illegally’, he launched an environmentally sustainable medical marijuana farm in November of 2016. According to Reuters, the wildfires utterly consumed Mystic Spring Farms, claiming 2,500 pounds of cannabis worth about $2 million, $10,000 in cash to cover the mortgage and workers’ salaries, a farmhouse that dated back to the 18th century, trailers and farm vehicles, and 900 marijuana plants.
Lopas was merely days away from his first harvest. “That was all our eggs in one basket. We were devastated,” he said.
“Fires consuming communities north of San Francisco have destroyed almost 30 pot farms in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa [the so-called The Emerald Triangle] counties and significantly damaged a similar number, according to the California Growers Association. Those are a fraction of the estimated 15,000 pot farms in the region,” the report continues. Sadly, there’s very little reprieve for cultivators who now have to face the arduous task of having to relocate, rebuild, and figure out how to pay back investors.
CNN Money Reports:
Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, which grows and sells marijuana in California, estimates that farmers typically invest upward of $5 million in their facilities and as much as $3 million on growing the crop itself.
“If their facilities burn down, a lot of these people won’t be able to get any economic relief for them from an insurance claim,” Peterson said. “There’s no mechanism for recovery to repay them for their loss. It’s a tremendous risk for these people.”
Josh Drayton, spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association, said it’s too early to tell just how many of the state’s estimated 10,000 to 15,000 marijuana farms have burned down.
He expects “the devastation is going to be larger than anybody would hope it to be.”
Lastreto, co-founder of the cultivator Swami Select, said she knows several people who lost their farms already. Those who haven’t lost everything are harvesting early so the crops don’t get burned down or tainted from smoke.
According to Peterson, California’s overall supply won’t be significantly impacted once retail commences. This, he believes, is due to the sheer amount of fully functional farms operating throughout the entire state. This is good news for consumers, but not so much for pot farmers and their affiliates.
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, told the SF Chronicle that the fires in Sonoma and Mendocino counties have caused “the worst year on record for California’s growers.”
“This is going to leave a deep scar,” she said in regards to the several dozen CGA members have lost their entire farms in the blazes burning near Santa Rosa. “I had one conversation today where the family was in tears, saying, ‘We don’t know how we’re going to make it to January, let alone next planting season.’”