Climate change raises new challenges for cannabis farmers

Wildfires and droughts ravaging agricultural land around the world have raised the stakes for cannabis farmers, who must decide whether to cultivate their plants in greenhouses or out in fields.

Farmers of sun-grown cannabis may save on these costs, but they face the risk of wildfires burning the land or smoking out crops, not to mention water shortages and extreme weather conditions.

In Mendocino County, a coastal California area with small cannabis farms, most plants are grown outside. One local farmer, Russell Perrin, says the fire season is almost year-round at this point. In 2016, a fire rained ash on Perrin's plants, giving them a tainted smell and making them unsellable. "It felt like you were on Mars," he said. 

And when drought strikes, California cannabis farmers may not be offered the same benefits and protections as farmers of crops like rice or nuts. "It's unfortunate that at the California state level, cannabis is actually not designated as an agricultural crop," said Michael Katz, executive director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance. Instead, cannabis is considered an "agricultural product," which means the people growing it don't have access to the same aid available to traditional farmers that are growing tomatoes or even hemp, Katz said. 

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