Marijuana farms have been engulfed by California wildfires over the summer as firefighters work to contain blazes across northern California that have already burned through more than 70,000 acres. While the marijuana crops destroyed are unlikely to cause any statewide supply issues, it could drive up some prices, put small farmers out of business – and disseminate a familiar smell.
Hezekiah Allen of the Emerald Growers Association, an association of cannabis growers in California, said a burning marijuana farm would potentially release similar smoke into the air as when a person traditionally smokes. It might smell close to pot, he said, but would be “tainted” because of all the other items and plants like poison oak burning along with it.
A representative from Cal Fire cautioned residents to stay away from high smoke areas – even those that smell like pot – because of other substances being burned.
“Basically, you’d get sick from other things,” Allen said. “The residents won’t get high.”
Allen said wildfire damage “isn’t going to have an impact on supplies across the state” but may hit many individual farms and dispensaries hard.
He did not specify the number of farms destroyed, but did confirm that he was aware of individual farms that had been lost.
Marijuana farms suffer the same risks as other farmers in California – facing the potential loss of their crop, on top of the strain of the drought. The profitable Napa wine industry, too, is threatened by wildfires, with winemakers concerned that smoke-infused grape skins will alter the flavor of the wines.
But some of those impacts are exacerbated for marijuana growers, who won’t get subsidies from the state if their crop is lost, and whose value per plant is much higher than that of many other plants.
Allen said the issue for dispensaries – where patients are legally permitted to purchase medical cannabis – could be that they lose their supply of marijuana because of limits on transport.
Under California law, counties can opt out of permitting medical marijuana transport through their borders, meaning that getting marijuana from one county to another can present problems.
“The market regulation has been unhealthy for years and this could be one of the problems some dispensaries may face,” Allen said.
For growers who lost crops in northern California, it will likely mean a hit at the bank. According to EGA , “the most commonly occurring revenues were in the $300,000 range, with a net to the farmer of just over $100,000”.
Allen said the “tragedy on the local level is very real. This year has been devastating to a number of farmers, who have lost their greenhouses and farms.”
In an industry that brings in more than $500m per year to the state, according to NerdWallet, it may not seem like a major loss when one farm is destroyed.
But there is serious concern among some purchasers who are open about the effects destroyed crops could have on what is described by Harborside Health Center purchasing manager Timothy Anderson as an “already constricted market”.
“We were already under pressure from the drought,” Anderson told MarketWatch . “Prices are high and availability is low.”
“I had to help another farmer get new plants,” Anderson said. “They’re having trouble getting young plants to thrive because of the smoke. There’s a range of issues.”