Million-Dollar Weed Farms In California Expected To Go Up In Smoke From Fires

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Firefighters make a stand in the backyard of a home in front of the advancing CZU August Lightning Complex Fire Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Cannabis crops are within days of harvest on hundreds of farms in one of the country’s most perfect outdoor-growing cannabis regions — the Emerald Triangle, a three-county corner of Northern California.

Many locals in the cannabis-growing enclave of Post Mountain-Trinity Pines, about 200 miles northwest of Sacramento, refuse to evacuate for fear of losing their livelihood to fire or thieves, Los Angeles Times reported.

Wildfires are threatening the region’s weed farms. Inland from Humboldt, Trinity Pines alone is home to up to 40 legal farms and more than 400 illegal ones hidden off its dirt roads, according to people familiar with this part of the Trinity Alps.

Each weed farm has crops worth half a million dollars or more, LA Times reported. Among the 1,000-or-so holdouts are many Hmong families, originally from Laos and other Southeast Asian countries, who moved to the area in recent years, along with Bulgarians and Russians.

“There (are) millions of dollars, millions and millions of dollars of marijuana out there,” said Nate Trujill, a narcotics deputy in the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department. “Some of those plants are 16 feet tall and they are all in the budding stages of growth right now.”

The wildfire known as the August Complex has burned more than 860,000 acres and conditions are favorable for it to grow. It was approaching Post Mountain and Trinity Pines on Sept. 25.

 In 2019 alone, California brought in about $3.1 billion in cannabis sales, up from about $2.5 billion in 2018. The industry seems to be growing in 2020, but the wildfires that plague the state each year are a major setback, according to the price-comparison platform Wikileaf.

Post Mountain weed farms aren’t the only pot growers threatened with going up in smoke.

The co-founder of WAMM Phytotherapies — Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana — said the CZ Complex Fires may have burned their entire farm in Santa Cruz. There are other stories.

Marijuana is sold largely based on two qualities — smell and flavor. Even if the crop doesn’t burn entirely, what’s left is still severely damaged from smoke and soot falling on the flowers that contaminate the smell and flavor. In some cases, the smoke and debris make the plants just as worthless as if they’d burned, Wikileaf reported.

In 2017, wildfires consumed 200,000 acres (312.5 square miles) of land. Vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties turned to ash, along with the recreational marijuana industry in that area.

Marijuana farm owners invested everything they had into their enterprises, and none of them had insurance. Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, banks mostly won’t deal with businesses involved with the product. The industry is handled almost entirely in cash.

Northern California is know the world over for its perfect climate for outdoor grow operations, Wikileaf reported. The climate is mostly steady and predictable, but fires seem to be getting worse each year, making the area less predictable.

Fire officials in Trinity County have warned the community they will try to defend the crops but will not risk firefighters’ lives to save residents who refuse to leave, LA Times reported.

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Post Mountain volunteer Fire Chief Astrid Dobo, who also manages legal cannabis farms, estimates that about 80 percent of locals are now of Hmong descent. The subdivision was marketed in the 1960s as a hippie getaway and has about 700 occupied lots, she said, ranging from a few acres to a few dozen.

Some of the Hmong farmers may prefer risking death rather than lose their livelihood, said Seng Alex Vang, a member of the Hmong community in the Central Valley and a lecturer in the ethnic studies program at Cal State Stanislaus.

“I believe a lot of them put their life savings into this marijuana grow,” Vang told LA Times. If their weed farms were overrun by fire, “it’s a total loss.”