Editor’s note: This article was originally published during the 2018 wildfire season. Read “California Wildfires Continue to Ravage State Agriculture, Including Cannabis Farms,” published in September 2020, here.
As more than a dozen wildfires continue to burn across California, cannabis cultivators affected by the blaze face challenges ranging from the health and safety of their employees to the potential destruction of their facilities and crops. Consumer safety and lab testing will also become significant concerns as cannabis grown in affected areas hits the market.
“When you start getting into how [it’s] going to affect product and manufacturing and production, this is the big variable,” Jon Vaught, CEO of Front Range Biosciences, a Colorado-based agricultural biotech company, told Cannabis Business Times. “It depends on where the wind’s blowing, what your situation is, where you’re located. You could be right next to a fire and have no issues at all, or you could be ten miles from it and have your building filled with smoke. It really just depends on the weather.”
Smoke can stress or even kill the plants—especially those in outdoor or greenhouse operations—and the residue left behind can pose problems for lab testing and consumer health.
“Smoke taint is the most obvious and the most apparent threat to cannabis as [it’s] exposed to these forest fires, and that’s something you’re going to be able to readily tell from just qualitatively examining the cannabis,” said Josh Wurzer, president of SC Labs, which has operations in both California and Oregon. “So, that’s certainly a concern—just ruining the flavor of the cannabis.”
Smoke from municipal fires that burn buildings and other man-made structures can be more harmful than forest fires that burn trees and foliage, Wurzer added. “[When] cannabis [is] growing indoors in city limits or near other buildings and the fire