Pot farmer's dreams go up in smoke during
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[October 16, 2017]
By Heather Somerville
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) - Andrew
Lopas' plans to bring his marijuana business out of the black market
with a legal, profitable and organic pot farm went up in smoke in the
wildfires that have scorched Santa Rosa, California.
After four decades of growing pot illegally, the 54-year-old saw an
opportunity last year to start a legitimate business serving the medical
Last Sunday, as the wildfires, which have now killed at least 40 people,
first erupted, Lopas' cannabis farm in Santa Rosa went up in flames,
leaving behind the stumps of two chimneys, heaps of ash, charred
marijuana plants and a despairing entrepreneur. [nL2N1MP07S]
After moving into the farm last November, he had been only days away
from his first harvest.
Lost in the conflagration at Mystic Spring Farms were 2,500 pounds
(1,100 kg) of cannabis worth an estimated $2 million, $10,000 in cash to
pay the mortgage and workers, a farmhouse that dated back to the 18th
century, trailers and farm vehicles, and 900 marijuana plants.
"That was all our eggs in one basket," Lopas said. "We were devastated."
California's newly legalized marijuana industry was hit hard by the
deadliest blaze in state history.
Fires consuming communities north of San Francisco have destroyed almost
30 pot farms in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties and significantly
damaged a similar number, according to the California Growers
Association. Those are a fraction of the estimated 15,000 pot farms in
California is the source of most of the nation's illegal marijuana
farming. Humboldt and Mendocino counties, in the cannabis-growing region
known as the "Emerald Triangle", have led the state's production.
FLEEING FROM FIRE
California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, despite a federal
ban, and last year approved recreational use of the drug by adults.
Since then, the state has been developing rules to allow recreational
Lopas said he and his girlfriend, Monika Meyers, were focusing on the
medical marijuana market, taking a "wait and see" approach to the
developing recreational market.
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A wildfire burns in mountains above Sonoma, California, U.S.,
October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Medical marijuana businesses in California are expected to operate
as non-profit cooperatives, but beginning in January 2018 they can
apply to run as for-profit companies, according to the California
Franchise Tax Board.
Lopas fears the fires have irrevocably destroyed many farmers in
Sonoma County. He said marijuana's illegal status on a federal level
means farmers cannot qualify for federal aid in disasters and most
do not have crop insurance that would cover the fire losses as there
are not adequate policies available.
Lopas' first warning of the rapidly approaching fire was flickering
lights in his greenhouse as he worked last Sunday evening. He
smelled smoke, and when the wind picked up, he and Meyers fled,
grabbing little more than some clothes and their two dogs.
Lopas, who has grown marijuana since he was a teenager and sold it
illegally much of his life, said he wanted to make his farm a
shining example of regulatory compliance and environmentalism,
spurning the pesticides that many illegal farms use to boost yield.
"We were trying to bring the industry out of the dark," he said.
Lopas has had trouble sleeping since the loss and worries how he
will repay his investors. But he is not giving up.
"We want to rebuild," he said. "This property is too special to me."
(Reporting by Heather Somerville, additional reporting by Alex
Dobuzinskis; Editing by Ben Klayman and Mary Milliken)
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