Severe weather disrupts US cannabis operations from coast to coast

Did you miss the webinar “Women Leaders in Cannabis: Shattering the Grass Ceiling?” Head to MJBiz YouTube to watch it now!


Image of July 2023 heat wave map

Cannabis companies from Northern California to South Florida will continue confronting operational challenges this week, as severe weather taxes power grids while parts of the Northeast struggle to recover from historic flooding.

Millions across the country face excessive heat warnings, while Canadian wildfire smoke is once again descending on the Midwest, the Great Lakes region and the Northeast.

The convergence of severe, weather-related events across the country underscores how climate change is causing upheaval for individuals and businesses alike – cannabis operators included.

For example, blistering temperatures in the southern U.S. and California’s famed Emerald Triangle have prompted cultivators to enact emergency measures including shading plants, easing energy consumption during peak hours and asking staff to work night shifts.

In Massachusetts, Mayflower Medicinals, a vertically integrated cannabis company, shuttered its Boston retail outlet for two days earlier this month after the air-conditioning system broke under the strain of excessive heat.

Cannabis operators in the Midwest and Northeast, meanwhile, have had to deal with other weather-related issues.

In Illinois, the National Weather Service confirmed 11 tornadoes touched down on July 12 in the Chicago area alone, including a twister near Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

In Vermont, floods engulfed small towns last week, decimating thousands of homes and businesses while threatening to contaminate the water supply.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for Tuesday in parts of northwestern Connecticut, western Massachusetts, east-central New York and southern Vermont.

Similar weather events and ongoing electricity concerns likely will persist through the summer, officials warned.

In its latest report, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. – an international regulatory authority – said two-thirds of North America was at risk of energy shortages this summer during periods of extremely high electricity demand.

Several parts of the U.S. are at elevated risk, including California, the Midwest, New England and Texas.

Many indoor marijuana growers are voracious consumers of electricity, as they rely on lighting, HVAC and humidity-control systems.

Outdoor growers, for their part, are at the mercy of excessive temperatures, rain, hail, fire and smoke.

“We are in the age of climate risk and adaptation,” said Derek Smith, executive director of the Resource Innovation Institute, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit advocating climate resilience.

“Cannabis operators need to invest in climate-smart practices just like the rest of agriculture. This ranges from site feasibility to placing some stages of cultivation under protection,” he told MJBizDaily.

California

This past weekend, large parts of Northern California, including the Emerald Triangle, were under excessive heat warnings.

In Mendocino County, temperatures at Shepherds Meadow Farms eclipsed 100 degrees.

The cannabis cultivator covered three of its flowering greenhouses on the 10,000-square-foot grow with shade cloth, which diffuses some sunlight and attracts and retains water. All of the farm’s nine greenhouses utilize a drip water system.

Owner Brandon Waluk, who has grown indoor and outdoor cannabis in Northern California for more than a decade, said he has encountered nearly every cultivation problem related to drought, heat and infestation.

“I’ve run into so many issues that I feel like I can mitigate them as best you can,” Waluk told MJBizDaily.

“I’ve gone through much more extreme heat events,” he said, adding that temperatures sizzled to 115 degrees on the property in 2022.

Other farmers in the Emerald Triangle, which includes Humboldt and Trinity Counties in addition to Mendocino, are taking their own precautions, such as avoiding over-watering as well as harvesting late at night or before the sun rises, according to Michael Katz, executive director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance.

“Farmers in Mendocino are used to dramatic weather shifts, but we’re seeing more and more extreme temperatures, which also create significant wildfire concerns,” he said.

“All of these factors, when added to the underlying regulatory challenges, make for a very precarious existence.”

Arizona

Wide swaths of Arizona hovered near 120 degrees over the weekend.

Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest energy provider, said peak electricity demand hit an all-time high on Saturday.

Demetri Downing, founder of the Arizona chapter of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association, estimates that more than  90% of grow operations in the state are indoors.

He would like to see cultivators use outdoor space in more accommodating climates such as Prescott Valley or Campe Verde in central Arizona – or the wine region located in the southern part of the state.

Downing is concerned that an over-reliance on indoor cultivation in Arizona could be economically unsustainable.

“It begs the question long term: How realistic is it to grow cannabis indoors in 115-degree weather?” he said.

In an effort to ease pressure on the power grid, APS is offering tens of thousands of dollars in tax rebates and various incentives to agriculture companies, including cannabis cultivators, and other businesses that install energy-efficient equipment and systems.

Florida

Temperatures eclipsed triple-digits this past weekend across South Florida, which will likely be under a heat advisory the entire week.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week said that ocean temperatures off the Florida coast neared 100 degrees.

During peak energy pulls on the power grid, New York-based marijuana multistate operator Curaleaf Holdings works with third-party “demand-response teams” to lessen power consumption.

The company has cultivation operations and dozens of retail stores in Florida.

“If the draw on the grid starts to reach a critical point, they’ll reach out and we will strategically turn down some lights, shut off some lights in order to reduce our energy draw enough to relieve the grid,” Dan Palmer, vice president of technical cultivation, told MJBizDaily.

The company also is dimming lights and shifting electricity needs within its indoor cultivation operations while implementing cloth shading to mitigate external heat, Palmer said.

Extreme weather is a perennial challenge for cannabis companies in Florida.

Last year, Hurricane Ian ripped through the state, causing more than 100 marijuana businesses to shutter as operators assessed employee safety, flooding, structural damages and mass power outages in the hurricane’s wake.

Environmental factors

Industry consultant Ben Gelt said cannabis companies, like other industries, will need to consider environmental factors more when making business decisions, including:

  • Facility location.
  • Proximity to rivers that flood.
  • Proximity to water sources that may dry up or disappear.

“Any rational businessperson or leader is going to have to take that into account – whether you’re growing a cannabis plant, a tomato or manufacturing a widget. It just doesn’t matter,” said Gelt, an advisor for the law firm Greenspoon Marder.

“These are blanket concerns for any industry.”

Chris Casacchia can be reached at chris.casacchia@mjbizdaily.com.

Solomon Israel and Omar Sacirbey contributed to this report.