The same fires that have destroyed Northern California's wineries have also taken a toll on the region's marijuana farms, which were about to begin an important harvest less than three months before the nation's largest recreational pot market opens for business in January. At least 31 marijuana farms have been destroyed and many more are damaged, per the California Growers Association. That number is expected to rise significantly once evacuation orders are lifted and farmers are allowed back to their properties, the AP reports. The estimated losses don't count indoor grows, backyard greenhouses, and converted garages lost to the fire in hard-hit Santa Rosa, the center of Sonoma County's blossoming pot industry. The figure also doesn't account for illegal growers who want no part of legalization and operate as far undercover as possible.
Unlike neighboring wineries, marijuana farmers don't have crop insurance because the plant is still listed as an illegal drug under federal law, keeping financial institutions out of the industry. Many of the growers who suffered the greatest losses were working to obtain licenses to grow recreational pot once state regulators starting issuing permits on Jan. 1. Farmers with local permits to grow medical marijuana are expected to receive the first state licenses, but those damaged by fire are now concerned they may lose out if they don't get back up and running quickly; many already paid fees and lawyers in their efforts to go legit. "I did everything right and by the book," says one grower who lost 900 plants worth $2 million. The damage is expected to have little impact on the state's overall marijuana economy, as thousands of growers were unaffected by the fires.