When surveying the neighborhoods reduced to ash in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties over the last week, I think most of us probably felt an acute vulnerability. The devastation was so complete, so widespread, with thousands of structures leveled, dozens killed and more than 200,000 acres charred.
As I watched a group of volunteers load toilet paper, first aid kits and bottled water onto a Mission Linen truck at the Humboldt Bay Fire station last week, one woman said quietly, "it could have been us," as she dabbed back tears and marveled at the outpouring of Humboldt County generosity. The following night, I sat at my dinner table as my 5-year-old peppered me with questions. What if a fire came here? What if we had to flee our homes at 2 a.m. with only what we could carry and stood in the cold air as the rest burnt to the ground? What would we do? I tried my best to answer.
Most importantly, I said, we'd still have each other and that's all we really need. The next morning, she came with more questions. What about all our stuff, what about our house? I tried to explain that we have insurance that would give us money to rebuild our house and to replace some of our stuff, plus we have a little bit of money saved in case something horrible happens. She seemed dubious and I had to concede that if something like that happened, things would never be the same, even for people like us, who are fortunate to be employed with insurance and some savings.
It was with these thoughts still in the back of mind that I started coming across stories from our neighboring counties to the south about dozens of cannabis farms destroyed in the fires. And it occurred to me that as much as the thought of fire scares me and my 5-year-old, it has to terrify Humboldt's cannabis industry.
Consider this: Unlike the vineyards destroyed by the same fires, the cannabis farms don't have crop insurance and likely won't find themselves in line for whatever federal disaster relief ultimately trickles down the pipeline. Also, because of federal banking restrictions, it's a safe bet that millions in cash went up in smoke on some of those farms and homesteads. It's also important to remember that many of these dozens of farms had likely spent the preceding months pouring large sums of cash into getting their farms permitted, inspected and remediated in anticipation of California's recreational markets opening next year.
To add insult to injury, an online donation account set up by the California Growers Association, which had raised a modest $25,000 for the now farmless farmers on the site YouCaring online, was shut down. The site's payment processor, WePay, apparently felt helping cannabis farmers put it afoul of federal law so it froze the account. (CGA has started another donation drive on its website.)
None of this is to say these cannabis farmers are any more deserving of your empathy or donations than any of the thousands upon thousands of others whose lives have been ravaged by flames to the south of us.
But it is a reminder that even those farmers operating legally under state and local law, even those doing everything they can to be green and good neighbors, are living without the safety nets many of the rest of us enjoy. And it's a reminder that, while all of us in Humboldt are very vulnerable to Mother Nature, the thousands of families making their livings from the local cannabis industry — and possibly our county's economy — are one disaster away from total ruin.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.