Sonoma County cannabis growers concerned about smoke taint after wildfires

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Harvest time in Sonoma County.

We've already heard about the grapes, and concerns about how smoke taint from fires will eliminate some vintages, but here's something new.

"That's ash here," said Erich Pearson pointing at some leaves.

He is part biologist, part grower, and a full time CEO at Sparc in Glen Ellen.

Right now, his crop is coming in, and it is not grapes or broccoli. Not with strains named Doctor Order, Wedding Crasher, or San Fernando Valley.

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"It's cannabis," said Erich.

Towering, flowering cannabis, acres of it.

And here, growers have concerns about smoke taint as well.

Unlike wine, where the smoke absorbs into skins and affects the taste, smoke taint in cannabis is more a matter of aesthetics.

Consumers don't want ashes on their pot. If those ashes are polluted, they don't want them at all.

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"There is organic smoke from a forest," said Erich. "But if it comes from a house fire, there all kinds of chemicals. Then, we need to take the crop to a lab to make sure we're not contaminating the product."

After the fires, Erich had some 20,000 plants to clear of ash with high speed, hand-held blowers.

That process continued today. It's necessary, considering that cannabis is easily a $100 million a year taxable product in Sonoma County, growing both literally and figuratively.

"The wine industry is flattening out. Sonoma County can use all the tourism it can get because of the fires. So, we're hoping to do that," he said.

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The ash is not a game breaker for Erich this year.

He considers himself fortunate. Several other legal growers lost their entire crops to the Glass Fire.

At least one of them did not have insurance.

But even as those flames fade, it is clear that their consequences continue.

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