Kevin Jodrey of Humboldt’s Wonderland Nursery may not have been in the path of the fires that raged across Santa Rosa, but like most, he has a direct connection to someone affected by the unprecedented blaze. He recalls hearing from his niece, who was awakened at
1 a.m. at her home in Coffey Park by officials telling her to run for her life.
“She grabbed the dog and a doll she’s had since she was a child,” Jodrey says. “Her husband grabbed his laptop, and they jumped in the car, turned left, and took off. Her neighbors jumped into their car, too, but went right — they didn’t make it.”
It’s difficult to discuss the Sonoma County fires in terms beyond the loss of life and homes, but as the page turns from containment to surveying the damage, it has become clear that local industries — from tourism to wine to cannabis — have all been severely affected.
Jodrey is more than qualified to speak on that last point: He’s been part of the cannabis industry for 41 years. In addition to Wonderland Nursery, he is also the creator of the cannabis brand Port Royal and a co-founder of the Emerald Triangle’s Golden Tarp Awards, a competition for cannabis grown outdoors with light-deprivation techniques.
When the Golden Tarps were first held in 2014, Jodrey received about 100 entries, 50 percent of which were disqualified following stringent lab testing. That year, wildfires devastated both Lake and Mendocino counties, which led Jodrey to look into why so many submissions were getting flagged.
“It was all fungal disqualifications,” Jodrey explains. “It wasn’t from toxins or pesticides. It was fungal. I theorized that the fire had kicked up huge amounts of soil — where most fungal and bacterial colonies exist — and then the wind deposited it far and wide. We created a scatter-plot on a map of all the entries, and you could clearly see that all the contaminated entries had come from the fire areas.”
From these findings, Jodrey concluded that even in areas where a fire hadn’t directly burned crops or tainted them with smoke residue, it was still possible for damage to occur. While this may bode ominously for the many farmers growing out of Sonoma County and its surrounding area, he believes all hope is not lost.
For one, the process by which cannabis flower is extracted and turned into a crude oil actually strips the product of terpenes (oils that give the plant its flavor profile) that might be spoiled from smoke damage. This means farmers with cannabis that might now be difficult to sell as flower still have the option to sell their crops as distillate to be used for vape pens and other oil-based consumption devices.
“If your cannabis was organically produced, meaning you never used contaminants, and all you have is some smoke damage and maybe some subtle fungal present, your product is perfect for the concentrate market because when they distill the concentrate, the other toxins come out,” Jodrey says.
In a market where oil now makes up 48 percent of sales — and continues to climb by 10 to 12 percent each year — the need for product to be utilized as distillate has never been higher. While extraction used to be solely viewed as a means of salvaging damaged crops, it has now become a viable avenue of production for farmers, and may be the answer many reeling from the recent fires are seeking.
Of course, Jodrey also knows that fire-damaged cannabis — known by nicknames like “hickory kush” and “campfire pot” — will also find its way to the market. While he takes pride in his own dispensaries, which subject all flower to non-mandated testing before being offered for sale, he knows not all of his peers will follow suit.
“People aren’t aware that most places that test your product really only test potency,” he says. “They’re not looking for specific contaminants, because it would be too difficult to get the quantities they need to sell to make it work. So ultimately, dispensaries aren’t necessarily always so much cleaner than the black market, either.”
As the price of cannabis in the regulated market rises with the implementation of Prop 64 and adult use, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, Jodrey believes plenty of patients and cannabis users with limited income will gladly sacrifice quality for affordability. That means that if fire-damaged product isn’t too offensive but substantially cheaper, it’s likely to do just fine as a budget alternative to high-end strains.
“Ultimately, people need cannabinoids,” Jodrey says, “but sometimes, they have to take the shitty vehicle that the cannabinoids are on because of their income level. I’m hoping that with commercial cannabis, we start to really fill the void and offer cannabis that isn’t exquisite but is clean and safe to consume.”