San Francisco (CNN Business)To an outsider’s eye, Canyon Cannabis might’ve appeared like a small-town, rinky-dink pot shop.Housed in an unassuming building off a scenic highway, it was the lone dispensary in the 500-person city of Gates, Oregon.Inside, though, visitors were greeted with an explosion of color and sound.A vintage Pioneer sound system bathed the room in music — Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, old ska and blues — from owner Thorin Thacker’s personal collection of 3,000 vinyl records he kept on site. Sometimes the soundtrack was provided by Thacker himself, a musician and Latin dance instructor, who would pick on an 1882 Fairbanks & Cole banjo or tinker away at the century-old piano placed in the lobby.Thorin Thacker, owner of Canyon Cannabis, sings and picks at a banjo on April 11, 2018, at the Gates, Oregon, dispensary. Canyon Cannabis was destroyed by the Beachie Creek Fire on Sept. 8, 2020.Beyond the experience, the dispensary’s curated selection of craft cannabis and hand-blown glass pipes from local artists helped attract a loyal clientele that included Portlanders from 80 miles away.Now it’s all gone.On Sept. 8, the Beachie Creek Fire tore through the canyon, devastating Gates and leveling Canyon Cannabis.The fire burned so hot, it turned the safe to Swiss cheese, disintegrating the money left inside. The locally made glass pipes and bongs melted into a clump of art. Metal scrapswere all that remained of the banjo and piano.close dialog
‘Stillness in the air’
On Sept. 9, as a red glow filled the sky and ash fell like a light snow, Tina Gordon feared the worst.The historically massive August Complex Fire shredding its way across Northern California was heading toward Gordon’s Moon Made Farms, a 40-acre cannabis cultivation site in Humboldt County, California.”There was a stillness in the air that was absolutely terrifying,” Gordon said. “No birds. No wildlife. Everything had taken cover.”East Fork Cultivars, an adult-use cannabis and hemp cultivation business in Takilma, Oregon. The Slater Fire surrounded Takilma, but hasn’t caused fire damage.Growing cannabis, especially outdoors, is an incredibly costly and risky affair, especially when those operations can’t easily be insured, but Gordon said her primary goal was to protect human and animal life while also preserving the possibility for recovery.Gordon opted to follow the mandatory evacuations and grabbed some cannabis seeds as she left.”The stuff doesn’t matter, the vehicles don’t matter, the infrastructure really doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s the land and the genetics.”Gordon returned nine days later, after the evacuation orders had lifted, to find the farm had been mostly spared. They lost some of the vegetables that weren’t on automatic irrigation, but the cannabis plants remained.The focus now has been on cleaning the plants, preparing them for harvesting and testing to ensure the products are safe and free from impurities, she said.Concern has risen among some cultivators in California about the potential damage caused by the heat, ash and smoke, said Jill Ellsworth, founder and chief executive officer of Willow Industries, which specializes in decontamination and remediation for cannabis flower and harvested plant material.She said some clients reported instances of smoke damage, premature flowering and other factors that can lower the quality and potency of cannabis or even ruin entire crops.If the environmental stress results in smaller buds and lower yields, that could lead to losses up and down the supply chain, Ellsworth said.
In Oregon, 20 licensed cannabis businesses had operations in wildfire burn zones and 12 were complete losses, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which oversees the state’s cannabis industry.”But we suspect the impact is greater than what we can find on a [Geographic Information System] map,” said Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the OLCC’s recreational marijuana program.A cast iron plate and piano wire are the remnants of a century old piano once located in the Canyon Cannabis dispensary in Gates, Oregon. Canyon Cannabis was destroyed by the Beachie Creek Fire on Sept. 8, 2020.In addition to the destroyed operations, other cannabis businesses have reported partial crop loss and damages to infrastructure and irrigation systems, according to OLCC.The placement of the Oregon wildfires has been particularly challenging for hemp growers as the fires have eaten into one of the nation’s most productive regions for the crop.As of Sept. 16, about 17% of the state’s hemp cultivation sites were facing imminent danger from wildfires, according to an analysis from Hemp Benchmarks, a provider of data and research for the industry.The smoke, ash and other fire-generated debris pose a significant contamination risk to hemp crops, especially those that will supply the smokable hemp market, according to the report. Some crops were damaged by the high winds that accelerated the deadly blazes and others suffered water loss as power outages interrupted irrigation systems, Hemp Benchmarks found.”Hemp [grown for CBD] is a pretty high-cost crop to farm; people are putting a decent amount of money in per acre relative to growing corn or soybeans,” Adam Koh, Hemp Benchmarks’ editorial director, told CNN Business. “That’s sort of an extra kick in the pants right there.”Melted clumps of what were locally made glass pipes and bongs sold at Canyon Cannabis dispensary in Gates, Oregon. Canyon Cannabis was destroyed by the Beachie Creek Fire on Sept. 8, 2020.Last month, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and other Oregon Congress members introduced a bill that would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to qualify for disaster recovery programs. Like most cannabis-centric legislation, the bill is expected to face stiff opposition in the Republican-led Senate.Canyon Cannabis’ Thacker said he’s hopeful for legislation of that nature, but “I’m certainly not going to hold my breath.”For now, he’s relying on a GoFundMe campaign to help generate funds to rebuild Canyon Cannabis either in Gates or the nearby Mill City, where he once served as mayor.”That’s a lot of magic to recreate,” Thacker said. “I know we can do it, but it’s not going to be easy.”