In recent years, there’s been a noticeable increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires in the Western United States. Many of the states most prone to burning are also home to the country’s largest legal cannabis markets. Here we’ll examine how extreme weather including wildfire impacts the cannabis industry.
How Weather Affects the Cannabis Industry
While indoor growers have the ability to isolate themselves from the elements, outdoor grow operations are often seriously impacted by the whims of the weather. There’s not much data on the cultivation practices of legal cannabis businesses. However, one 2019 survey of 100 growers published in the journal California Agriculture suggests that most cannabis in California is grown outdoors on farms or in outdoor greenhouses. The newly emerging hemp industry also relies primarily on traditional farming as opposed to indoor cultivation techniques.
The negative impact of weather on crop yields has existed for as long as humans have practiced agriculture. But recent fluctuations in weather patterns attributed to climate change have hit growers especially hard. In October 2019, an early freeze caused Colorado’s largest cannabis grower to lose 20,000 mature plants when the farm was enveloped in unseasonal subfreezing temperatures and covered in snow by an early storm.
Record Wildfires in 2020
Another effect of climate change is worsening wildfire damage, particularly on the West coast. In 2020, the state of California saw more 4 million acres burn, equivalent to roughly 4% of the state’s 100 million acres of land, marking a new record for the largest wildfire season in modern history. Although many critics have pointed to the mismanagement of fire prevention programs, California’s increasingly intense fire seasons are no doubt made worse by hotter, drier weather in the state.
This year, Oregon also suffered significant damage due to wildfire. Quick moving fires along the coast of the state in September completely destroyed several cannabis farms and placed one in five cannabis businesses under evacuation orders.
Picking up the Pieces
Aside from the direct damage, it’s difficult to estimate the financial toll that this year’s fire season has had on the industry. The fires have so far decimated crops and halted local supply chains, but plants that were spared from burning will still need to pass quality testing and may be compromised with contamination due to smoke, ash, and flame retardant. Fires will also be ongoing through the end of the fire season and in years to come as an increase in burning may represent a new normal.
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