Wildfires have devastated California marijuana growers, just as the nation’s biggest legal cannabis market comes online.
Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the California Growers Association, said Thursday that at least seven farms had been destroyed, and that he expected the number to “increase significantly” as people returned to their homes. Tens of thousands of cannabis growers live in Northern California.
The owners of the seven farms include small-scale growers who put their life savings into their farms over the past year, he said. None of them have insurance, he said.
“They leveraged themselves entirely,” Mr. Allen said. “It’s going to hit some families really hard.”
Since marijuana is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government, the industry works entirely in cash, said Josh Drayton, a spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association. That makes reliable insurance difficult to acquire and banking impossible to use.
After decades of growing illegally, 54-year-old Andrew Lopas had plans to bring his business out of the black market, Reuters reports. According to the news agency:
After four decades of growing pot illegally, the 54-year-old saw an opportunity last year to start a legitimate business serving the medical marijuana market.
Last Sunday, as the wildfires, which have now killed at least 40 people, first erupted, Lopas’ cannabis farm in Santa Rosa went up in flames, leaving behind the stumps of two chimneys, heaps of ash, charred marijuana plants and a despairing entrepreneur.
Lost in the conflagration at Mystic Spring Farms were 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) of cannabis worth an estimated $2 million, $10,000 in cash to pay the mortgage and workers, a farmhouse that dated back to the 18th century, trailers and farm vehicles, and 900 marijuana plants.
“That was all our eggs in one basket,” Lopas said. “We were devastated.”
The statewide crop would have supplied California dispensaries through the end of 2018, Business Insider reports. That, in turn, could send prices soaring for consumers.