The most destructive wildfires in California’s history have been devastating the state since earlier this month, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres, thousands of structures and costing at least 42 people their lives.
Few industries have been spared the devastation, and the legal marijuana industry was not one of them. According to Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, at least 34 farms had been destroyed as of last Friday, a number he expects to go up as more data comes in. “Just the scale of this event is kind of numbing,” Allen said.
To make matters worse, thanks to federal law that prohibits banks and other financial institutions from working with legal marijuana growers, none of the farms were insured.
“The road to recovery is going to be long,” said Allen, who used to be a cannabis farmer. “We live harvest to harvest so we’re looking at how we get people to the next harvest. Right now, our immediate goal is making sure folks have what they need to get those seeds in the ground.”
And if things aren’t bad enough, federal law is not done screwing cannabis farmers in California. Allen set up a fundraising effort on YouCaring to help those who lost their farms, setting a goal of $25,000. Over $13,000 had been raised before the site shut down the fundraiser, citing payment providers like WePay and PayPal and their rules against raising money for marijuana businesses.
“Our payment providers are unable to process payments connected to the production or sale of cannabis (including CBD oil), even in situations where such payments would be permitted under State Law,” said YouCaring’s Camelia Gendreau in a statement. Under federal law, raising money for marijuana businesses is considered money laundering.
In theory, the law is designed to protect the rights of citizens. But when it comes to cannabis, the law has been infringing on the rights of marijuana growers and users for well over 80 years. And while several bills are slowly making their way through the U.S. Congress – bills for things like legalizing medical marijuana and allowing bank access for state-legal marijuana businesses – all are still in the phase of gathering co-sponsors. But that’s not going to help farmers who put their life savings into these cannabis grows in anticipation of legal retail sales starting in California on January 1st.