The fires raging across the West Coast have been disastrous for so many reasons. They have killed more than a dozen and left thousands without homes and possessions. The smoke chokes the sky, leaving millions without clean air, and wildlife lose significant portions of already critically small habitat.
For much of 2020, the one silver lining amidst more than a year’s worth of traumatic events has been the booming cannabis industry in states where recreational weed has been legalized. To cope with disasters like COVID-19, the economic crash, racial inequality and more, people have turned to marijuana — and in many cases, the drug has helped. States like Washington and Oregon have seen economic improvement as a result of the rapid increase in marijuana use, and the government gains much-needed funds to provide public services to a struggling population.
Plus, cannabis business owners and farmers have gained a period of prosperity. The financial boon from pot has been so significant that many conservative cities and states are shifting their stance and attempting to legalize weed for their citizenry.
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Unfortunately, the fires are working to take cannabis away from the West Coast. Cannabis farms from Washington through California are ablaze, and here’s how the state’s marijuana industries could be impacted.
Millions of Dollars of Weed Ruined
In California, 25 separate wildfires have collectively devastated 3.3 million acres of land; 35 fires in Oregon have threatened over 5 million acres, and Washington state’s 16 fires have seen 500,000 acres burn and another 3 million acres at risk. Unfortunately, many of those acres were natural spaces and towns, but many more acres were valuable agricultural land — and a not-insignificant percentage were devoted to growing cannabis.
Already, several cannabis farms in northern California and southern Oregon have been entirely obliterated by spreading fires, and some farms are losing large chunks of their crop to the heat, dry air and flames. Oregon farmers seem to have it much worse, considering that so many cannabis farms are located so close in the southern part of the state: Roughly 62 per cent of all marijuana producers are located in Josephine and Jackson counties, which border California and have been plagued by fires in recent weeks.
The fires are bad for cannabis cultivation for dozens of reasons. Not only do the flames threaten to destroy existing growth and structures critical for processing harvested crop, but the ambient heat from the fire can kill cannabis just as easily. What’s more, fire damages irrigation lines and harvesting machinery, and perhaps most importantly, growers and pickers cannot return to the area to care for their crop until fires have abated and their property is deemed safe.
Marijuana Shortage in the West Looming
Because fires are still raging, it is difficult to say how much the West’s wildfires will impact the marijuana industry. In Oregon, seven marijuana producers have reported the complete loss of their crop, while most others have suffered only minimal damage, as yet. Should the devastation end today, it is projected that Oregon will lose only 2 to 4 percent of its cannabis supply, which isn’t enough to disrupt the booming Oregon marijuana market significantly. However, it is much more likely that the fires will continue on their chaotic path, putting more marijuana at risk and potentially leading to a cannabis shortage in the coming months.
Farmers Ineligible for Federal Aid
Typically, when a farmer suffers a significant loss due to unforeseeable circumstances, like wildfire, they have several financial recourses to salvage their investment. For example, most farmers take advantage of crop insurance, which will provide some or all the value of a crop should that crop be destroyed for reasons beyond the farmer’s control. Additionally, federal relief agencies have provided aid in the form of grants and loans to all sorts of business owners suffering as a result of the fires.
Unfortunately, cannabis business owners can utilize none of these solutions because marijuana remains a controlled substance at the federal level. Financial institutions are unwilling to provide any services, particularly insurance, to cannabis farms for fear of getting embroiled in a federal legal battle, and federal agencies have deemed cannabis farms to be ineligible for relief. Thus, many farmers will lose millions of dollars of crop and potentially their land and businesses — all because cannabis remains senselessly illegal at the federal level.
Until now, cannabis industries across the U.S. have seen unprecedented success in 2020, but the wildfires tearing through the West Coast threaten to halt that progress in its tracks. With luck, the fires will die down as the weather cools, and marijuana will remain readily available in Washington, Oregon and California.