Struggling California Growers Seek Insurance Benefits after Record Wildfires

In the wake of the worst season of wildfires on record, affected cannabis growers are seeking aid to save their businesses.

Since January; California has endured its worst fire season on record with over 9000 wildfires burning through more than 4 million acres of land, doubling 2018's prior record. The state's cannabis farms, along with wineries and other agriculture-based enterprises have all suffered from this year's state-wide inferno, even if they didn't actually burn.

Smoke and ash blown over the state has hit cannabis farms particularly hard, damaging the smokable flower of the plant. Needless to say, said flower is very popular with consumers and is one of the primary sources of income for businesses.

As we're in the middle of the critical harvest season for many California growers, losing this year's crop yield would be disastrous to their continued survival according to industry insiders. Because if they can't make enough money this year using the damaged harvest, they can't afford to even pay the licensing fees in order to plant for next year's crop.

Furthermore, the state is home to the 'Emerald Triangle', a trio of counties that grow more cannabis than the rest of the USA. Its farmers have had varying experiences with the fires, with some seeing their farms reduced to ash while others having so far been spared the worst of it.

Unfortunately, even if enough farms survive the fires, damage to farms and businesses based in the Emerald Triangle is certain to negatively impact the nation's cannabis industry. For this reason, growers are making the case for insurance that covers wildfire-based damages, as ever-worsening wildfires obviously put their businesses at risk.

However, as cannabis growing is technically still illegal on a federal level without the aforementioned licensing fees, it's often beyond their financial capacity to purchase insurance. For context, only 5% of hemp crops across the country can afford the expensive federal program and are thus insured.

Furthermore, many cannabis farms were denied access to COVID-19 relief programs available under March's $2 trillion CARES Act because of that federal law. So in an unstable economy, growers are suffering from both natural disasters and a lack of federal support with it.

For that reason, the recent election of Joe Biden to the White House might come as good news to these wildfire-affected businesses. The President-elect has stated his support for adult-use marijuana decriminalisation and federal medicinal legalisation.

According to Kristin Nevedal, a co-chair of the California Cannabis Industry Association's Agriculture & Manufacturing Committee and a grower herself; Biden's proposed reforms would allow businesses better access to that much-needed insurance.

On a grander scale, California's cannabis industry generated an impressive tax revenue of over a billion dollars since the beginning of 2018, proving it's an industry the federal government would be well-served in protecting long-term. However, struggling businesses may need federal insurance to survive the short-term until then.

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Cameron Kinsella
Cameron Kinsella

Cameron is an Australian writer, film geek, and political science graduate from the University of Sydney who is passionate about the culture that has arisen surrounding cannabis. Cameron hopes to one day bring that culture to Australia through educating audiences