The California wildfires aren’t just bad news for wine—weed is in danger, too

Fighting the blaze.
Fighting the blaze.
Image: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Wildfires in northern California wildfires have destroyed some 1,500 structures, including homes and businesses, and prompted California governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in counties that include the famous winemaking regions of Napa and Sonoma. Grapes are far from the only crop endangered by the seasonal dry Diablo winds fanning flames across the region.

Counties within northern California’s Emerald Triangle of marijuana cultivation are also threatened by the fires. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Growers Association (CGA) found on a Monday morning call that one-third of the association’s leaders were either evacuating themselves, or helping neighbors to escape the flames.

“We’re expecting some pretty significant property damage,” CGA executive director Hezekiah Allen told the Chronicle. “As damage numbers emerge, it’s going to be pretty stunning on all fronts, and certainly our membership has been directly impacted.”

Representatives from farms, manufacturers, and dispensaries told the Chronicle they were afraid for their businesses, many of which were closed. The director of SPARC Farm, which according to its website has greenhouses as well as organic and biodynamic plots in Sonoma County, said some employees refused to leave, and spoke of plans to harvest SPARC’s annual outdoor crop tomorrow (Oct. 10). There are as many as 3,000 cannabis gardens in Sonoma, the Chronicle reported, citing community surveys.

It’s possible that harvest will be tainted with a distinctly smokey aroma. According to Greenstate, the smoke and ash from wildfires can impart a “campfire smell” to buds growing in their path.

“Especially when it’s ripe—I can tell you from personal experience, wildfire definitely will make your cannabis have a smokey flavor to it; just like wine,” Kristen Nevedal, executive director of the International Cannabis Farmers Association, told Greenstate. Sometimes those buds make their way onto the black market, where they are sold on the cheap with names like “beef jerky” and “hickory kush.” It’s also possible that tainted plants will be sold as distillates—or even BBQ-flavored edibles—instead of flowers.

“It’s the only way we’re going to be able to work with some of these new environmental situations, because I don’t think the fires are going to stop,” Humboldt County farmer Kevin Jodrey told Greenstate. “It’s our new reality.”