Cash crop
Cash crop
File photo by Brett Levin/Flickr

California Fires Won't Dampen Cannabis Supply, Experts Say

At least 21 cannabis farms have been destroyed by the Northern California wildfires, according to Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association. Two, possibly more, have been damaged, he said.

A member of the association's board was under mandatory evacuation orders Friday and tried to salvage as much of his fall crop as possible before heading out, Allen said. The fires, described as some of the worst in state history, spread across seven counties, including the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma, and claimed 35 lives by the end of last week.

However, among the affected counties, only one, Mendocino, is part of the core marijuana-producing region known as the Emerald Triangle, Allen said. As such, crop losses could be relatively minor. Experts don't expect much in the way of disruption or price spikes for what is, in essence, America's annual pot harvest.

"Wildfire is generally a pretty modest influence," Allen says. "The impacts for individual farmers will be severe. But there's a lot of cannabis out there."

The latest Cannabis Benchmarks report from New Leaf Data Services LLC, which tracks wholesale cannabis prices in states where weed is legal, predicts little supply or price impact from the fires. This is the time of year when California's massive outdoor crops, mostly grown in the Emerald Triangle, come to market, depressing prices.

The report calls for local disruptions in supply in fire-affected areas but not for much of a dent elsewhere in the state, including in Los Angeles, the nation's largest retail weed market. "Given the significant overproduction that takes place in California as a whole, it is quite possible that the local impacts discussed above may not be evident statewide," according to the report.

"Though Sonoma County is home to several thousand individual growers — estimates put as many as 5,000 small farmers in the area — and a portion of Mendocino County is also currently affected by fires, tens of thousands of additional cultivators in Humboldt, Trinity and other areas in the northern part of the state have been able to bring in harvests without incident, not to mention the production of newer commercial operations in the central and southern regions of California, established over the course of the past year, that will be available to their respective local markets," according to the subscription-only report.

Of course, with continued dry conditions, the fires could continue to rage, and this assessment could change. "Who knows what's going to happen with the fires in the days ahead," says an industry analyst who did not want his name used for fear of sounding callous in the face of tragedy.

"Obviously people have built entire businesses and they've been burned to the ground," he says. "But we've seen fires before, and we've seen fall prices decline as usual. We're expecting a repeat."

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