Durango, Colo., Wildfires Throw Local Cannabis Industry Into Uncertainty

Durango, Colo., Wildfires Throw Local Cannabis Industry Into Uncertainty

Echoing last year’s northern California wildfires, southwest Colorado cannabis businesses are banding together to support one another.

June 15, 2018
Eric Sandy
News State by State: Colorado

Though the wildfires in Durango, Colo., are now 15-percent contained, the regional cannabis industry is bracing itself for uncertain fall-out and longer-term impacts of environmental hardship. The “416 fire” has torched more than 27,000  acres of thickly forested land in the San Juan National Forest, between Durango and Silverton, with smoke visible as far as Salida, 200 miles to the northeast.

At the Durango Cannabis Co., Ben Peters, director of sales and marketing, has been rallying local cannabis growers and dispensary owners to raise funds for the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado and to put an informative spin on a harrowing event for the southwest Colorado community.

He’s working with the foundation to host a fundraiser and educational outreach event at the Durango Cannabis Discovery Center, 965 Main Ave., located below the Colorado Grow Co., from 6-9 p.m. June 22. Peters is bringing local cannabis operators together to help raise raffles around products from local dispensaries, nutrient companies and glassblowers—and showcasing local restaurants and breweries, as well. The whole point, he says, is to lock arms and lift one another up in the face of disaster. “I also recognize one of our eight pillars of our company is ‘community,’” Peters says. “What I decided to do was get together the cannabis community here, and we’re going to have an event called ‘Fighting Fire with Fire.’”

Photo courtesy of Durango Cannabis Co.

And yet, the fires continue to burn.

“I would say, overall, the Hotshots  are starting to catch up to it,” Peters says, referencing how federal crews are toughing it out through the low humidity, high-speed winds and high temperatures that have made a dangerous job even more difficult. At the same time, local firefighters from the four La Plata County districts have been protecting structures and ensuring that, to date, no buildings have been lost to the fire.

People began returning to their homes on June 13, after nearly a week of evacuation in areas close to the fires. Public health warnings have been distributed for the past two weeks, keeping many families indoors—and keeping business transactions to a dull simmer.

On the ground within the local cannabis industry? Peters says that there’s a great degree of uncertainty; the fires are burning now, and it’ll take some time before business owners can analyze the consequences. “Not many people are talking about it, as I would assume they don’t understand the implications of what’s coming,” Peters says, recalling the northern California wildfires that produced such flower names like Hickory Kush, complete with “smoky” terpene profile.

Durango Cannabis Co. operates an 8,000-square-foot indoor grow with a closed-loop environmental control system. Peters says that his company’s setup is rather uncommon in southwest Colorado; more traditional HVAC systems are seen more often in the area. Indoor facilities with that sort of outflow equipment tend to have to deal with a three- to five-percent air exchange mandate by local law, leaving the cultivation space at least somewhat vulnerable to the smoke outside.

“We might see some smoke that maybe affect some of the indoor grows. I doubt it would be significant enough  [to cause operational problems],” Peters says. “What is big is we have a lot of greenhouse operations here … I guarantee you here, in a couple months, once we see whatever’s in flower right now get dried and cured, we’re going to probably see some smoky profiles across all the strains. There are definitely a couple brands that grow exclusively greenhouse out here, and the smoke is getting all the way up to the Arkansas River Valley up in Salida. … I don’t know how much this could impact the greenhouse community, which is pretty heavy on this side of the western slope and this area of the state.”

And there’s the rub: As much as the Hotshots are facing the uncertainty of a raging wildfire in the San Juan National Forest and along the winding State Rt. 550, cannabis businesses in southwest Colorado will have to lean into the unreliable market forces created by an environmental havoc. 

What’s next? It’s hard to say, really.

“Overall, there’s been an overwhelming amount of support,” Peters said. “The community has come together on this. The dispensaries are hurting. I have a couple dispensaries that are on a two-week buying hold, just because no one’s coming to town.”

Looking to the weekend, Peters says he’s optimistic about rain  in the local forecast. Like the rest of his community, he’ll be eyeing the incremental progress on the blaze with close attention.

Top photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service