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DON’T SMOKE THE MESSENGER: Cannabis & Fire Season

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The Milepost 97 Fire near Canyonville reminds me that our community now makes annual fire preparations a fact of life. Vineyard visitors and Shakespeare lovers alike have been overheard complaining of a smokey taste in the wine after a bad season of fires. Local businesses see sales dip. People generally dread going outdoors. The benefits of Southern Oregon summer living start to feel squashed.

Problems We All Face: Like everyone, cannabis workers dread smokey summers. Even with proper masks–choose an N95 or N100 mask–it’s still miserable to spend your waking life immersed in harsh, acrid air. Energy levels, coping skills and general wellness are stifled. Less tourism means less $$$ and that includes dispensaries. This pain trickles up through the cannabis business supply chain. The hurt comes back around to the many farms which support the greater local economy. But cannabis businesses and consumers should be raising some other concerns when it comes to this lung-tormenting onslaught.

Issues Unique to Cannabis: I have heard it enough to believe that a long period of smoke blocking the light will send plants into their flower cycle earlier. This could mean a few things including throwing a farmer’s season schedule off or even lower yields from a shorter vegetative period. 

But when smoke fills the air during harvest time, new problems are introduced, of which the cannabis community should be aware. Depending on what is burning in the fires many different chemicals and compounds might be floating around in the air, waiting to cling to the sticky resin of a cannabis cola ripe for harvest. 

According to the U.S. Forest Service, “The wide variety of pollutants released by wildland fire include greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O)), photochemically reactive compounds (e.g., carbon monoxide (CO), non-methane volatile organic carbon (NMVOC), nitrogen oxides (NOx)), and fine and coarse particulate matter (PM).” 

But in the developed world, things can get worse. After the Santa Rosa fire last year, Leafly detailed potential dangers to cannabis consumers when modern civilization burns near grows. “. . . melted gas pipes, power lines, even a cellphone tower. The blaze . . . scorched thousands of homes and cars, releasing metals into the air. When rubber, fiberglass, paint, and electrical equipment burn they release uncommon and highly dangerous toxins, such as dioxins and other biphenyl compounds.”

What Can Cannabis Businesses & Consumers Do To Protect Themselves? When I called Greenleaf Labs in Portland, a representative, Julia said, “Unfortunately, we don’t really know what we’d be looking for.” She offered that perhaps an environmental  testing lab might offer this sort of service. 

In Oregon, testing for fire contaminants is not required for cannabis products. While it would be great if cannabis testing labs were able to provide this as a cost-effective service for those worried about possible contamination, this is not one of the headline concerns in our fledgling industry. So we are left to trust that good judgments will be made all around.

Consumption: If possible, avoid using combustion when consuming potentially smoke-tainted cannabis. Edibles or vaporization might be a better option as many toxins landing from fires can go through further chemical conversion often becoming more dangerous when combusted and inhaled. Be careful when consuming concentrates or extracts. If the potency of the medicine has been concentrated, so have the contaminants. Finally, knock on weed in hopes that we stay fire-free for the rest of this year!

Photo by Roo Grostein

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