California cannabis industry hit by wildfires

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Less than a year after a series of wildfires in California destroyed more than 1.3 million acres, the Golden State has gone up in flames again, and is burning faster and bigger than ever before. That’s devastating news for residents, many of whom were forced to evacuate their homes for the second year in a row, not to mention the 14,000 firefighters working day and night to contain at least 16 major blazes from spreading any further. Also crossing their fingers for rain are the state’s many marijuana growers.

California’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016 — which went into effect in late 2017 — has created an economic boom, but Mother Nature has proven to be an even bigger foe than anti-weed politicians. Last year, as reported by Rolling Stone, an approximate 30 to 40 percent of California’s marijuana growers were impacted by the fires, according to the California Growers Association, but the recreationally legal weed industry was still in its relative infancy then, and has rapidly expanded in the months since. Many cannabis farms are within some of the driest parts of the state, where the ongoing drought conditions, extreme heat and strong Santa Ana winds can turn just about anything into kindling.

In a span of just a few days, what officials are calling the Mendocino Complex Fire — which encompasses two separate blazes, the Ranch Fire and the River Fire, around Clear Lake — has exploded in size to become the largest fire in state history, a title previously held by last year’s Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. So far, there have thankfully been no human casualties, but 283,800 acres have burned and 75 homes have been destroyed. Over the weekend, police arrested three men in the town of Nice for interfering with a fire operation after they refused to stop watering their marijuana plants and evacuate the area.

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Late last month, in Greenville, to the east of Mendocino in Las Plumas County, a massive fire tore through at least eight greenhouses containing some of the state’s most coveted premium herb, destroying five of them. ‘Terp Town,’ as the farm is affectionately known, is operated by the town’s largest employer, Loudpack, which supplies dispensaries all over the state. Thankfully, none of the facility’s 300 employees were injured or killed, but the company is still assessing the damages.

Also in late-July, to the northwest near Redding in Shasta County, several buildings operated by AlienLabs, another one of the leading cannabis growers in the state, were destroyed in the still growing Carr Fire, which has consumed 173,522 acres so far. And it’s early yet — last year’s most damaging fires began in November and December, and with one state record already beat, 2018 is shaping up to be even more catastrophic for California, its residents and the still-young marijuana industry.

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