written by Alexandra Arnett @calyx.alex photographed by Kimberly Harris
Oregon, California and the rest of the West Coast have had their fair share of wildfires throughout the years. Here in the city of Eugene, we have been fortunate enough to not be directly affected by these wildfires outside of the smoke. However, many cannabis farms have not been so lucky when it comes to wildfire, and outdoor operations across Oregon have all had to deal with second-hand effects such as smoke and ash.
Outdoor growing and greenhouses operations were some of the most affected by this year’s fires. The OLCC reported that over 20% of their licensees were in evacuation areas for the fires. Several dispensaries were lost in Southern Oregon, including Talent Health Club, Grateful Meds, Canyon Cannabis, Fireside Dispensary, and Blue River Grass Station. Roganja Farms and Primo Farms were two farms we are aware of that had plants destroyed by the fires. One cannabis testing lab, EcoTest Labs, reportedly lost their building as well.
I took this opportunity to speak with a couple of growers located in Oregon to get some information about their experiences with the fires and smoke. Heroes of the Farm is one of several northeast Oregon farms that had plants affected by the wildfire smoke and ash. Pat, head grower and owner, combated the ash that fell on his plants with a backpack leaf blower which seemed to blow most of it off. Pat also noted that the heavy smoke from the fires turns the pistols of the plant dark orange. This, he stated, gives the appearance of plants that are ready to harvest when in reality, the plants have a few weeks to go before they are fully mature. He says he hopes the smell of smoke doesn’t stick through the harvest and curing process.
The next is a southern Oregon farm located at the top of the infamous “Emerald Triangle.” 42 Degrees Farms is an outdoor hemp farm that is focused on growing craft hemp. Shane has been growing cannabis for over 10 years and this last year decided to grow hemp varieties of cannabis. 42 Degrees was extremely thankful that their farm was spared from any flames coming from the Alameda Fire, which started just about three miles north of their property. While the plants did have some days where the sun was clouded in thick smoke, they believe the rains in the days before harvest may have helped clean up the plants. While their plants didn’t show any significant changes, they did have other friends experience similar changes to what Pat described above in their own plants. During the fires, the 42 Degrees team continued to put in the hard work through the hazardous air conditions in order to have a successful harvest this October.
So we have to ask the question, what does all this smoke and ash mean for the plants? You may remember back in 2017 when the entire state of Oregon was harshly affected by several wildfires, much like summer 2020. That year’s outdoor harvest of cannabis was extremely difficult for growers and many lost money on their harvests. Almost any pound of outdoor cannabis you could find was never more than $800, some were as low as $300, which means that there was plenty of cheap cannabis to go around at the dispensaries. This cannabis had some caveats though. No matter what strain you got, it all smelled like a campfire.
Back in 2017, as a budtender, I did not hear many customers complaining about the prices for this campfire cannabis. However, no one seemed to be wildly concerned about the quality of the product either, or how the fires may have affected it. Oregon currently has four testing categories for cannabis products; pesticides, water activity/moisture content, cannabinoids and microbiological contaminants (Salmonella, E. Coli, etc).
Cannabis products in Oregon are not tested for mycotoxins (mold), heavy metals and terpenes unless requested and paid for by the grower. In addition to these testing requirements, there are also strings attached. For example, in Oregon, you can take cannabis flower that did not pass its initial testing and then process it into an extract instead. As long as that final product has a passing test it can be sold. These products can range from not only the dabs you buy at the shop, but cartridges, edibles, topicals and tinctures.
A large part of what makes smoke and ash so toxic is the materials that it burns through. Think about what you have in your own house; cleaning supplies, electronics, wood, paint, kitchen appliances, etc. All of these create toxic chemicals when burned, including heavy metals, which are then present in the smoke you breathe and the ash you see. Fire retardants can also pose risks if used near plants and any water supply.
When dealing with cannabis that has been contaminated by wildfires it is important to run a thorough laboratory analysis. However, this isn’t always an easy thing to do as there are no set procedures on how to analyze potential hazards resulting from smoke and ash damage. Laboratories also are not held to a single standardized testing method.
Aside from testing the cannabis for safety to ingest after being exposed to wildfire smoke and ash, another thing is overall quality. Cannabis plants that have been exposed to smoke and ash undergo a lot of stress, which can be a huge detriment to the plant. This affects the maturity of trichomes, which are what contain all the cannabinoids and terpenes we all love so much. In extreme situations, you could end up with a far more inferior product that is not likely to smell, taste, or look good.
This season, dispensaries may not be letting you smell the cannabis before you purchase because we are still in a pandemic, so trusting your budtender and taking their word for it will be the best way to avoid smoking some campfire cannabis.
If you would like to donate money to help cannabis businesses that are in need, Southern Oregon grower Noah Levine of Benson Arbor graciously set up this GoFundMe fundraiser.