After a season of dramatic weather disasters, most of America may have been looking the other way, but last week, billions of dollars-worth of harvest-ready Northern California cannabis literally went up in smoke.
Dozens of raging wildfires, driven by gale force winds, sent flames racing across hillsides and through neighborhoods of Santa Rosa and numerous other communities. Much of the mainstream media reported on the devastation to the vineyards, forests, and communities, meanwhile, California’s most precious cash crop lay in ashes.
Marijuana fans far and wide know Mendocino County is part of the “Emerald Triangle,” Northern California’s renowned cannabis growing region. This year’s marijuana harvest was widely expected to be a bumper crop in time for the coming California legal market. Thanks to continuing coverage by High Times and other media, we have been able to piece together the story. The scale of the personal cost of the catastrophe to the cannabis industry even earned supportive articles from the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, and CNN.
All told, more than twenty-two fires were part of the onslaught. More than 42 people are confirmed dead, tens of thousands have evacuated the area, hundreds are still missing, and over 240,000 acres of prime California real estate has been burnt beyond recognition. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in eight counties, including Sonoma and Mendocino.
As one underground grower explained, “Even the plants that weren’t burnt alive had to breathe all that smoke; so even if your crop survived it was ruined by the smoke.” California Growers Association’s Executive Director Hezekiah Allen said the fires in Sonoma and Mendocino counties have caused “the worst year on record for California’s growers” and affected as many as 40% of the state’s cannabis cultivators. Other experts counter that only 5% of the state’s cannabis harvest was affected. In an economy where two and a half billion dollars of medical marijuana were sold last year, 5% is still a lot of green.
High Times reporter Maureen Meehan interviewed multiple experts to attempt to get a handle on the scale of the cataclysm. Josh Drayton, spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association (CGA), estimates 10,000 to 15,000 cannabis cultivation facilities have been destroyed. Derek Peterson, CEO of Cali cannabis company Terra Tech, estimates each of those farms probably was worth five million dollars and had crops worth three million dollars on average in the fields when the infernos struck. NBC News is reporting that in addition to the loss of their harvest-ready crops, many cultivators also lost their “recent investments in infrastructure to comply with licensing regulations in preparation for recreational marijuana legalization next year.”
Meehan explained, “Cannabis farms and growers, unlike others, are not in a position to collect insurance or compensation for the devastating loss of their crops.” Because cannabis is still prohibited under federal law, “Cannabis businesses have no recourse, reprieve or federal disaster relief funds.” As Nikki Lastreto, secretary of the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association, put it, “They might have insurance on their house, but not on their crop.”
In the wake of such a huge tragedy, conspiracy theorists abound. Hard-right rumormonger websites, Got News and Breitbart are accusing Mexican drug cartels of starting the fires to protect their markets. Fanning the flames of the conspiracy, undocumented immigrant, Jesus Fabian Gonzalez, was arrested for felony arson in the area and acting ICE Director Tom Homan accused Gonzales of starting the entire conflagration and Sonoma County law enforcement of protecting Gonzales.
Meanwhile, in addition to mainstream relief centers and emergency services, the cannabis community is looking out for the Northern California patients whose lives were also disrupted by the fires. According to a High Times report by Ab Hanna, California cannabis companies are banding together with CannaCraft, a Santa Rosa-based cannabis company that lost more than one million dollars in crops due to the blaze, to provide as much as $50,000 worth of cannabis products to displaced patients, on top of aiding with more traditional relief efforts. In addition to CannaCraft, which is also serving as a makeshift evacuation center and loaning company vehicles and equipment to the recovery effort, Mercy Wellness in Cotati, SPARC/Peace in Medicine on Dutton Avenue in Santa Rosa, Emerald Pharms in Hopland, and Solful in Sebastopol are joining in the cannabis distribution program for evacuees.
Arizona-based YouTube “kinda canna-celebrity cultivator,” “Fadah Mike” Hendricks says his online “Canna-Family” of legendary growers and enthusiasts raised $20,000 for relief aid for those with cannabis cultivations that were destroyed. One particularly legendary California grower, “Subcool” was also interviewed about the relief efforts in yet another article by High Times on the fires. “Our city is completely destroyed—farms, homes, people’s lives uprooted and destroyed forever. I lost my home and every single thing I own—every single photograph, every piece of music and over a million cannabis seeds,” Subcool explained.
Northern California cultivation community has also created their own support network headquartered at Patrick King’s The Soil King Garden Center in Cloverdale, California, a tiny mountain community of about 9,000 people about 85 miles north of San Francisco. Since the fires, The Soil King Garden Center has served as a makeshift evacuation center for local cultivators devastated by the flames.
Soil King staffer Michael Williams says the fire has touched everyone personally, “If you live here, you either lost your home or know someone who has. It has touched everyone. We’re coordinating with the other emergency evacuation centers and have had truckloads of donations going through here that have come from around the country. Folks in Washington and Oregon have collected supplies and driven down here with trailers full of stuff. We have raised $30,000 for fire relief here in the store alone.”
To donate to their relief effort GoFundMe page, Click Here. For more information on what you can do to help, contact the Soil King Garden Center Hotline at (707) 894-3500.
SUPPORT CALIFORNIA FIRE VICTIMS
Emerald Cup Charities
North Bay Fire Relief
Tubbs Fire Victims – Santa Rosa Community
CalGrowers Wildfire Relief Fund
Mendo Generations Fire Fund
Mendo Generations Redwood Complex Fire Fund
CA Fire Relief
Disaster Fund for Mendocino County
Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund