The deadly wildfires that ravaged communities in Northern California severely damaged many marijuana farms just before the state is legalizing the drug. At least 34 marijuana farms suffered extensive damage as the wildfires tore across wine country and some of California’s prime marijuana-growing areas, the Washington Post reports. The fires could present challenges to the scheduled January 1 rollout of legal marijuana sales at the start of an industry that is expected to generate billions of dollars in revenue. Many farm owners have spent tens of thousands of dollars to comply with state law to sell the product. Because the federal government considers marijuana cultivation and sales a criminal enterprise, it remains extremely difficult or impossible for most marijuana businesses affected by the fire to get insurance, mortgages and loans to rebuild. Even a charitable fund set up to help marijuana farmers was frozen because a payment processor will not handle cannabis transactions.
Cannabis businesses are not eligible for any type of federal disaster relief, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It’s the darkness right before the dawn of legal, regulated cannabis in California,” said Hezekiah Allen of the California Growers Association. “These businesses are in a really vulnerable position, and this really came at about the worst time it could have. It means we’re on our own.” The fires burned swaths of Mendocino County, which is part of California’s “Emerald Triangle,” the nation’s epicenter of marijuana growing. It devastated Sonoma County, which is best known for wine but has seen an increase in cannabis farming. The fires killed at least 42 people and damaged thousands of buildings.