Cannabis companies fall through the cracks amid natural disasters

This summer, much of Vermont experienced record-setting flooding with a preliminary count tallying 4,000 homes and 800 businesses damaged. While waiting for federal aid, shelters are overflowing with pets lost during the flooding, and the Governor has reinstated the sale of “Vermont Strong” license plates to raise money for those affected.

Many people and businesses affected by the natural disaster will receive financial help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but not everyone. Cannabis companies aren’t always privy to federal aid as long as the Fed considers the plant illegal.

Rebuilding in Vermont

A cannabis store in Montpelier will rebuild from the ground up following the flood damages, the VTDigger reported. That is just the most public-facing damage, however.

Cultivators watched on greenhouse cameras as rivers worth of water flowed through their gardens, uprooting and stressing out plants along the way. Business owners may not be able to fully assess the damage until after harvest season, which is months out.

Local communities band together to place lost pets and raise money for repairing damages to schools, roads, and food security gardens. And just like in California, the cannabis community is supporting its own.

The Cannabis Retail Association of Vermont (CRAV) will sponsor two fundraisers to support flood victims. One cent from every ticket sale to the two-day Higher Calling Fest will go to retailers affected by the natural disaster. Those that buy a ticket will also be given the option to donate directly to retailers.

All CRAV retailers will be selling a specialty pre-roll meant to bring in more support. The joint will be sold for $0.01 alongside the ask of a suggested donation to cannabis retail flood victims.

Russ Todia, Chief Operating Officer for CRAV retailer Ceres Collaborative, shared via email that they donated a portion of July sales. Ceres will continue supporting general flood relief efforts through August, and they’re trying to help cultivators get back on their feet too.

“We, along with some others have offered free clones to growers who may have lost their latest harvest with the flooding,” Todia said. “Simply put, we are members of this community, several of whom live in the hardest hit areas of the state and believe that we have an obligation to help where and how we can.”

The case of cannabis farms and Northern California wildfires

This devastating event brings back memories of the 2017 wildfires that ravaged Northern California. Cannabis companies were left to flounder in the wake of that natural disaster too.

One of these stories belongs to decades-long cannabis farmer Andrew Lopas, owner of Mystic Springs Farm in Santa Rosa, California.

Lopas lost millions in assets after the 2017 fires. The flames left only a few pieces of his home and farm behind. Despite the large number lost, he mostly mourns the immeasurable loss of the outcome of years of hard work and memories. But even after continued trials and tribulations, he hasn’t given up on cannabis yet.

“I rebuilt another company every year since the fire, had some seriously flawed partnerships on several deals, and really been through the wringer,” Lopas shared via email.

“It is not something you can bounce back from easily. Once you lose your place in line, it just feels like you are trying to make up for something that just can’t be recovered completely. It never feels right again.”

In the first days following the fire, Lopas and his partner lived in an RV on the property and attempted to bring any plants to flower that would oblige. They cultivated one more acre off the property, selling most to an extraction company Lopas called “wily.”

The veteran cultivator was desperate to recoup any investments, growing self-proclaimed “mids,” the term for so-so weed. While Lopas holds mids below his preferred quality standard, he felt he had no other option.

“I made the choice to be vulnerable because I wanted to make up for the lost year so badly,” Lopas explained.

The county agriculture commissioner was loose on permit regulations in the harvest season after the fire. This kindness made growing that last acre possible. Lopas and his staff also received support from the surrounding community, specifically those in the cannabis space.

Cannabis brands and cultivators throughout Northern California and beyond sent bags of flower, extracts, and infused products. The Sonoma County Growers Alliance provided a prepaid card with a donation of $1600.

Tim Blake and the Emerald Cup team granted Mystic Springs passes and covered food at the event. Even people with long-owed debts started paying what they could.

“My neighbor, who also lost everything, got FEMA funding to do property clean up and helped clean up so we could go back onto the property,” Lopas recalled.

Community support flowed in during those first few months as Lopas and Mystic Springs applied for FEMA aid for a loss valued at over $2 million. They are still waiting to know what a payout might look like. As loose ends still fly in the breeze, Lopas has had trouble moving past the trauma and loss and wonders whether he has more fights left.

“We were flying by the seat of our pants, literally working in the ashes of our whole lives that we had lost that night a year before, but it just wasn’t enough, couldn’t save the property,” Lopas shared.

Without safety nets that other businesses have access to, like FEMA small business aid, cannabis companies feel left to fend for themselves. But thankfully, in both studies of horrible circumstances, the one constant is that the industry steps up to help when things go sideways.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.