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Marijuana Farms In California Count Their Losses After Wildfires

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Sonoma County is famous California wine country, but it's also a center of marijuana cultivation. And the devastating wildfires in Northern California hit pot growers hard. Tonya Mosley of member station KQED reports.

TONYA MOSLEY, BYLINE: Walking through the charred remains of Ned Fussell's marijuana farm in Santa Rosa, it's hard to imagine that much of anything once grew beneath our feet.

NED FUSSELL: So this was our farm here. It's, like, a war zone.

MOSLEY: A few yards away, smoke rises from what once was a 10,000 square foot barn.

FUSSELL: This is basically where we did all the vegetation of the plants.

MOSLEY: Fussell is the CEO of CannaCraft. This company grows marijuana plants to create more than 100 different products. Fussell owns about 20 farms in Northern California.

FUSSELL: A lot of them are just totally incinerated. So, I mean, yeah, we've lost millions of dollars' worth of product for sure.

MOSLEY: Medical and recreational marijuana use has been legal for a while in California, and the state will begin issuing licenses for commercial cannabis sales starting in January. But this wildfire has exposed a longstanding problem for the industry. Growing cannabis is still illegal under federal law, which means growers don't have access to crop insurance. So none of them will be able to recoup their losses.

JOSH DRAYTON: We were anticipating one of the largest cultivation seasons the state has ever seen.

MOSLEY: That's Josh Drayton with the California Cannabis Industry Association.

DRAYTON: That's going to change. Will that have ripple effects and create bottlenecks? You know, we might see some supply chain problems.

FUSSELL: We're going into one of the greenhouses right here.

MOSLEY: Grower Ned Fussell takes me into the only thing left standing here at his farm - a 40,000-square-foot greenhouse with hundreds of marijuana plants inside.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAN BLOWING)

MOSLEY: Dozens of heavy industrial fans blow air through the greenhouse. Even this marijuana crop might be ruined by the smoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF STARTING GAS GENERATOR)

MOSLEY: Fussell uses a gas generator to pump water on what little is left of his crop. He's devastated but still determined.

FUSSELL: We've been kicked down and had to start over many times. And we always found it's really important to just kind of keep a level head through it all and just try to, like, see the light at the end of the tunnel.

MOSLEY: Fussell says pot farmers have already gone through a lot - a struggle for cultural acceptance, a long fight for legalization and now a rebuilding from the ground up. For NPR News, I'm Tonya Mosley in Santa Rosa, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRIZ'S "UP IN SMOKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.