Happening:

Seeing through the smoke


Christopher Gallagher

California marijuana growers are getting smoked out

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Noah Berger/Associated Press

Anthony Lopez harvests marijuana plants as the Loma fire burns around his home near Morgan Hill, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2016.
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Noah Berger/Associated Press

Anthony Lopez harvests marijuana plants as the Loma fire burns around his home near Morgan Hill, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2016.
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Noah Berger/Associated Press

Flames surround a marijuana plant as a wildfire burns near Oroville, Calif., on July 8, 2017.
Ep 171109918
Noah Berger/Associated Press

Flames surround a marijuana plant as a wildfire burns near Oroville, Calif., on July 8, 2017.

There is nothing more beautiful than that moment when a flame touches a cannabis bud ... usually. Autumn 2017 is the exception that proves this rule; wildfires in Northern California have ravaged approximately 200,000 acres and are responsible for the destruction of dozens of cannabis farms, thousands of plants, and millions worth of product for the growers in this historic cultivation region. The wildfires have struck the counties of Napa, Sonoma (both known for their wine production), and Mendocino (which comprises, along with Humboldt and Trinity, the region known as the Emerald Triangle, the epicenter of American cannabis growing for the past generation).

The level of destruction caused by the fires can be measured in several ways and is, in some ways, absolute and immeasurable. Voters in the Bear Republic passed a ballot referendum allowing adult recreational cannabis use during last November’s election and this season was a very important one in the run-up to the program’s January 2018 launch. Estimates for the value of marijuana grown yearly in California range from around $7 billion to higher than $22 billion. Some farms have been completely destroyed – all of the cannabis, all of the personal property, any buildings and equipment, all gone – and, in yet another version of the nonsense that follows federal prohibition, cannabis farms are unable to purchase crop protection insurance like farmers of other crops. The casualties they have already and will continue to sustain as a result of these blazes are absolute.

Take a step back from the raw numbers (which are staggering) and let your focus land on these people and their losses. The vintners in the region are also vitally affected by these fires, but they will be able to recoup some with their property policies; not so for the cannabis farmers. To make the situation even more tragic, another byproduct of prohibition is the lack of access of cannabis businesses to federally insured banking. Stories of people who have been forced to keep their financial gains in the form of raw cash, which has been burned along with the rest of their property, have been trickling in from the affected area.

These fires strike as the state ramps up the harvest for its first-ever recreational growing season. California has had medical marijuana for over two decades since the state’s voters passed the first such program in the nation back in 1996.

Cannabis, despite its legal status, has been a staple crop grown in the area, which extends from north of San Francisco to the Oregon border, since the 1960s and has created its own subculture there. Of the crops that have not been destroyed outright, many are in danger of having to be harvested earlier than usual from the possibility of smoke infestation. This is a real problem with an agricultural product that has created a “brand name” based on having a particular odor that will be substantially compromised after spending significant time in an environment tainted by wildfire smoke.

Sometimes, you just have to send your heart out to people affected by tough times. This is one of those times, DGO. Hold Cali in your thoughts as you blaze one this week.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at chrstphrgallagher@gmail.com.