annabis Equity Applicants Still Face Barriers

The image has become familiar: presented by floor-to-ceiling shiny windows and a smiling, iPad-holding greeter, dispensaries in California look far more like an Apple Store than the smelly back alleys and strip mall parking lots where we used to buy our weed.

No longer the “devils lettuce,” cannabis is now a feature of “wellness,” and “plant medicine.” If Don Draper were real and working today, he’d certainly be pushing pot.

However, as more money has flowed into the recreational cannabis sector, the industry has predictably presented the same kind of bias found across the business world. Legal weed is overwhelmingly white — with white owners making up 80-90 percent of cannabis business owners nationwide. San Francisco’s Cannabis Equity Program was supposed to address exactly that problem by uplifting the mostly Black and brown communities hardest hit by the War on Drugs.

Shawn M. Richards is an equity program success story. By fall of 2019, the sterile-looking marijuana dispensaries emblematic of legal weed had not yet materialized in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, San Francisco’s hub of pot-smoking hippiedom. Known for illicit sales of herb and psychedelics, Richards once ran his own hustle here; he was selling drugs at 12 years old on the streets of the Haight. Now, he owns a dispensary three blocks from where he grew up — a hip, music-blasting, bright blue storefront called Berner’s on Haight.

Richards thought he would be the first in a long succession of similar businesses. However, two-and-a-half years since the program’s inception, his is still one of only three equity dispensaries to open in the city. As of December 2019, 133 equity storefronts were “in queue” for permits by the city, though obtaining a permit is only one item in a long list of hurdles equity partners must overcome before they can open their store. A total of 277 applications are being reviewed by the city, including those for delivery, manufacturing, and distribution.

So, what’s the hold up? The problem boils down to money and access to information. The equity program, which pledges to “foster equitable participation in the cannabis industry and create business opportunities for those negatively impacted by the War on Drugs,” gives qualified applicants a pass on their introductory $5,000 permit as well as access to industry incubators and technical assistance. However, most equity applicants cannot cover startup costs on their own, and many are still discouraged by a long, bureaucratic process they don’t always have the institutional know-how to tackle.

“There’s been a lot of people who have been getting rich, and getting paid, benefiting off the backs of people like myself that have been affected by the War on Drugs,” says Richards.

Richards believes that the arduous process makes it easy for his peers to get taken advantage of — especially when it comes to finding an investor partner to cover costs. “They’re preying on equity applicants, trying to give them a lump sum pay, or pay them monthly,” he says. San Francisco currently only allows equity partners to apply for a cannabis permit to give equity applicants a well-deserved advantage. However, this policy also encourages San Francisco vulture investors to find equity applicants they can partner with in name, but ultimately exclude from business operations and long-term financial profits.

Amber Senter is an Oakland-based cannabis activist and entrepreneur who is also concerned about these investors. “You could easily have a straw man as your equity partner,” Senter says. She says these cases are frequent and easy to identify, because oftentimes vulture investors all flock to the same vulnerable candidate. “You’ve got equity applicants who are on 12 different applications,” she says.

Even without the threat of vulture investors, the process applicants must navigate is complex, and full of fire, police, and safety inspections, piles of permitting paperwork, and several layers of review by bodies including the Office of Cannabis, City Planning, and the Cannabis Oversight Committee. It took Richards nearly three years to complete, and city requirements included that he have ownership of his retail space the entire time. If his store had ultimately not passed the approval process, he said his team would have lost over $200,000 on rent alone.

After making it through the legal gauntlet of opening his dispensary, Richards and eight others founded a coalition of professionals called the San Francisco Equity Group to help future equity partners navigate the process.

To qualify for San Francisco’s program, an equity applicant must have below a certain threshold of household assets. For example, a family of two must have less than $73,800 in savings, checking, or investment accounts. This makes sense — after all, social equity programs like San Francisco’s are meant to give disadvantaged business owners a leg-up. But because cannabis is still a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level, most cannabis businesses don’t have access to banking, nor can they write-off many business expenses on their yearly taxes. Add that to the fact that startup costs to open a marijuana dispensary in San Francisco range from $1.5 million to $3 million, and equity applicants are essentially forced to partner with someone who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for the equity program.

In Richards’ case, he insists that Cookies and their famous CEO, Wiz Khalifa-signed rapper Berner, sat down and entered a fully amicable 50-50 partnership. But other applicants aren’t so lucky.

“More education needs to be out there,” says Cindy De La Vega, who has been working on opening her own store since 2017. After years of setbacks, her store, a partnership with the massive vaping company Stiiizy, will likely open in the next two months. Like Richards, she says this brand partnership was amicable — in fact, she says the partnership with Stiiizy encourages her to succeed because they have Women of Color in many decision-making roles.

De La Vega grew up in the Sunnydale Housing Projects, and says that jargon-filled, bureaucratic processes such as this simply don’t suit people from her community. She is a board member for the San Francisco Equity Group with Richards, and says that, without their support, she likely would have given up on opening a store by now. “You gotta start with where we are from,” she says. This process, she says, “is built for failure, not for success.”

The city’s Office of Cannabis also faces its own budget problems. Applicants face long response times when working with the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, and while the Office of Cannabis has grown from a staff of four to a staff of five in the last year, that’s still not nearly enough people to comb through hundreds of pages of application paperwork. Long wait times can make the process more expensive and thus more discouraging for equity applicants, who are least likely to have funds to burn. “As an individual, you have to stay more active, and more involved,” says Richards. “They want you to bug them so they don’t forget about you.”

However, Richards also adamantly argues that the Office of Cannabis seems to have applicants’ best interests in mind. “They have really been pushing hard and trying to make sure they process all the applications with a limited staff. So you have to give them a clap on the back for that,” he says.

Met with the worsening city-wide financial crisis after COVID-19, it will be difficult for city officials to find the funds to further develop San Francisco’s Cannabis Equity Program. The city faces a $1.5 billion budget deficit, and, ironically, experts have noted that $831 million is going to pay for the police and sheriff’s departments, alone — the biggest chunk for any one department. While Mayor Breed’s budget proposal last year included the Office of Cannabis in a city-wide hiring increase, funds allocated to uplifting marginalized communities are far outweighed by that spent on public safety initiatives.

De La Vega, who still lives near the housing projects where she grew up, emphasizes that future improvements to the equity program will only help disadvantaged communities like hers. In fact, opening a store under San Francisco’s Equity Program, though it has been difficult, gives her a sense of pride. “It feels so good to know we’re trying, and we have been, doing good for our communities,” she says. “We’re doing all of this for our communities.”

Study: Nearly Thirty Percent of Women Report Having Used Cannabis for Menopause Symptoms

Nearly three-in-ten women have either used or are currently using cannabis to manage menopause symptoms, according to data to be presented at the annual meeting of The North American Menopause Society.

A team of investigators affiliated with the San Francisco VA Medical Center examined patterns of self-reported cannabis use for menopause symptoms in a sample of 232 female veterans (mean age 56 years).

They reported: “Current or ever use of cannabis for menopause symptom management was reported by 27 percent of all participants, while an additional 10 percent expressed interest in future use. In contrast, only 19 percent reported traditional forms of menopause symptom management, including menopausal hormone therapy.”

Cannabis use was most commonly reported among women experiencing hot flashes and night sweats. Some respondents also complained of experiencing insomnia.

Commenting on the study, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “While the therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans is not altogether uncommon, this study is among the first to highlight veterans’ use of marijuana for this particular condition. Given cannabis’ relatively high rate of use among the women in this cohort, scientists and others would be well-advised to further explore its safety, efficacy, and prevalence among women experiencing menopause.”

Authors of the study concluded: “Use of cannabis for menopause symptom management was common in this sample midlife women veterans in Northern California [where marijuana use is legal.] … These findings … highlight the importance of understanding the potential risks, benefits, and effectiveness of cannabis for this indication.”

An abstract of the study, “Cannabis use for menopause symptom management among midlife women veterans,” is available from The North American Menopause Society here. Additional information on cannabis use and veterans is available from the NORML fact sheet here.

Largest California Wildfire Threatens Marijuana-Growing Area

SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s largest wildfire is threatening a marijuana-growing enclave, and authorities said many of the locals have refused to evacuate and abandon their maturing crops even as weather forecasters predict more hot, dry and windy conditions that could fan flames.

The wildfire called the August Complex is nearing the small communities of Post Mountain and Trinity Pines, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) northwest of Sacramento, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Law enforcement officers went door to door warning of the encroaching fire danger but could not force residents to evacuate, Trinity County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Nate Trujillo said.

“It’s mainly growers,” Trujillo said. “And a lot of them, they don’t want to leave because that is their livelihood.”

As many as 1,000 people remained in Post Mountain and Trinity Pines, authorities and local residents estimated Thursday.

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger U.S. wildfires to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas, especially because climate change has made California much drier.

A drier California means plants are more flammable.

The threatened marijuana growing area is in the Emerald Triangle, a three-county corner of Northern California that by some estimates is the nation’s largest cannabis-producing region.

People familiar with Trinity Pines said the community has up to 40 legal farms, with more than 10 times that number in hidden, illegal growing areas.

Growers are wary of leaving the plants vulnerable to flames or thieves. Each farm has crops worth half a million dollars or more and many are within days or weeks of harvest.

One estimate put the value of the area’s legal marijuana crop at about $20 million.

“There (are) millions of dollars, millions and millions of dollars of marijuana out there,” Trujillo said. “Some of those plants are 16 feet (5 meters) tall, and they are all in the budding stages of growth right now.”

Gunfire in the region is common. A recent night brought what locals dubbed the “roll call” of cannabis cultivators shooting rounds from pistols and automatic weapons as warnings to outsiders, said Post Mountain volunteer Fire Chief Astrid Dobo, who also manages legal cannabis farms.

Mike McMillan, spokesman for the federal incident command team managing the northern section of the August Complex, said fire officials plan to deliver a clear message that “we are not going to die to save people. That is not our job.”

“We are going to knock door to door and tell them once again,” McMillan said. “However, if they choose to stay and if the fire situation becomes, as we say, very dynamic and very dangerous … we are not going to risk our lives.”

Efforts to extinguish more than two dozen major wildfires across California have benefitted recently from low winds and normal temperatures along with and moist air flowing inland from the Pacific. But forecasters said that weather pattern will reverse during the weekend as a ridge of high pressure boosts temperatures and generates gusty winds flowing from the interior to the coast.

In northern and central areas of the state the strongest winds were forecast to occur from Saturday night into Sunday morning, followed by another burst Sunday night into Monday.

The Pacific Gas & Electric utility was tracking the forecasts to determine if it would be necessary to shut off power to areas where gusts could damage the company’s equipment or hurl debris into lines that can ignite flammable vegetation.

The utility posted a power cut “watch alert” for Saturday evening through Monday morning. If the shutoff happens, about 21,000 customers in portions of northern Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties would lose power, PG&E said.

When heavy winds were predicted earlier this month, PG&E cut power to about 167,000 homes and businesses in central and northern California in a more targeted approach after being criticized last year for acting too broadly when it blacked out 2 million customers to prevent fires.

PG&E equipment has sparked past large wildfires, including the 2018 fire that destroyed much of the Sierra foothills town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

In Southern California, meteorologists anticipate very hot and dry weather conditions with weak to locally moderate Santa Ana winds on Monday.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

California Wildfires Continue to Ravage State Agriculture, Including Cannabis Farms

California Wildfires Continue to Ravage State Agriculture, Including Cannabis Farms


Since mid-August, wildfires have burned through more than 1 million acres of California land. It’s another echo of a recurring environmental catastrophe in a state that more than 5,000 licensed cannabis growers call home.

california wildfire cannabis

Ivan Redus
The firebreaks on the Sweet Creek property helped soften the impact of the Lnu Lightning Complex fires.

For Keala Peterson, whose family runs a farmstead in the hills above Santa Rosa, the Lnu Lightning Complex fires have brought swift devastation to her property, Sweet Creek Farm. When we spoke with her on Aug. 25, she said that some 95% of the property had been torched by the fast-moving fires.

At Sweet Creek, Peterson’s family had been growing Hawaiian sativa cultivars and other hybrids (among their many vegetable crops, as well). The cannabis buds hadn’t set when we spoke with Peterson, and she was hopeful that perhaps the smoke and ash of the blaze hadn’t settled on the flowers themselves. “We’re not holding our breath, but that’s a little bit of a silver lining,” she said.

On Aug. 19, Peterson was in Santa Rosa, where she lives with her husband, paying close attention to what was happening up on the ridgelines.

“I was watching the camera that faces kind of directly over the property, and I saw this glowing fire wall,” she said. “It was unbelievable.” She spoke with her mother, who was already packing the bags, and decided to head up the mountain to meet her family.

The property was pretty well safeguarded against certain kinds of fire. Peterson’s father is a retired firefighter and a vocal proponent of good fire safety practices. By nightfall, the scope of the wildfire in the hills was clear.

“We could clearly see the fire coming over the ridgeline and torching 30-ft. pine trees in a flash,” she said. “You could hear the sound of the fire. It creates its own kind of weather, and it sounded like a freight train roaring.”

It seemed like it was going to crash across the farm any second.

Peterson and her family are safe. But she said that they know all too well how pervasive this threat has become in California.

“Historically,” she said, “cannabis culture has always been up in the hills, and now, with a multitude of factors, the wildfires are really putting the whole culture in jeopardy.”

This is a long-term crisis—not only for cannabis growers, of course, but for people and businesses alike. For those cultivating cannabis in wildfire-prone hills of California, however, the concern is acute.

Peterson offered three tips for growers hoping to guard against the oppressive force of wildfire.

Create a defensible space.

This is something that Peterson’s father has constantly discussed on the farmstead. Create firebreaks around your property: gaps in vegetation that force the fire to slow down and settle before advancing into more fields of fuel. “Creating that defensible space is super important,” Peterson said.

In 2017, Sweet Creek was caught in the path of the Tubbs Fire, a very destructive wide-driven wildfire. There’s little to be done about a wildfire moving that fast, Peterson said. But the Lnu Lighting Complex fires

“In this one, it’s a classic kind of wild land fire, where it just creeps and spot fires happen,” she said. “If you create that defensible space around your garden or your home, then it’s more likely that the first responders will be able to actually save your home.”

california wildfire sweet creek farm

Ivan Redus

Rake back your hay.

At Sweet Creek, some of the farmstead’s hay caught fire, which is what led to the burning across the cannabis plants.

“In the future, if we knew a fire was coming in the area, I would do like a prep and I would rake back all my hay and create more defensible space just on the ground like that,” Peterson said. It’s one of those easily overlooked components of a farm’s landscape, but it’s also one that can have a huge impact on how a fire takes to the property.

Bury your infrastructure.

This is important for the days and weeks and months after a fire. “Bury your infrastructure, bury your PVC,” Peterson said “Don’t have it on the ground, because it’s all going to burn. And once you rebuild for the next year, that’s going to create that much more of a challenge instead of just replanting. Then you have hard infrastructure to deal with.”

Even the apparent soft infrastructure, like Sweet Creek’s Hügel hole, is something that Peterson pointed to for wildfire defense.

“There’s a lot of sustainable practices that cannabis farmers use, and one of them is a Hügel hole—like Hügelkultur, which is building wood and natural leaves and stuff over it,” she said. “It’s like a compost pile, sort of, and then you plant on top of that, and our Hügel hole was not buried. So, that was a huge source of heat. It was pretty much like a burn pile.”

As of Sept. 2, more than two weeks since the blaze began, the Lnu Lightning Complex fires are 74% contained, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The remaining structures on our property are now safe, and the danger has passed,” she said, “but in our area—it’s pretty remote—and there are a lot of ridgelines and valleys that the fire is burning in and around, so it’s not safe to go back in yet.”

At least 5 dead, nearly 700,000 acres burned as massive fires threaten Northern and Central California

The series of wildfires ravaging Northern California have inflicted major damage on several marijuana farms, with possibly more outdoor grow operations threatened in the region.

“There are a ton of farms that are located in the fire’s path. No one’s out of the woods yet. This is just starting,” said Keala Peterson, whose small, family-run cannabis operation, Sweet Creek Farms in Sonoma County, was damaged by the fires.

Peterson noted that many of the largest fire complexes were either not contained at all or only slightly contained by firefighters, a situation that exposes cannabis farmers to significant financial losses because the outdoor crops aren’t necessarily insured.

Peterson said Sweet Creek Farms lost about four-fifths of its marijuana crop to the fire on Wednesday but noted that firefighters were able to save part of her family compound.


“It looks like a wasteland,” she said. “Pretty much, it’s a total loss.”


Peterson said her cannabis crop isn’t insured, and she estimated her family will likely absorb about $150,000 in losses, perhaps more, if they aren’t able to salvage the unburned marijuana that has yet to fully flower.

“We’re guardedly optimistic that those (unburned marijuana plants) could come to term, but with smoke damage, if the bud has set enough, it’ll just be smoky marijuana, and nobody wants to smoke that,” Peterson said.

Still, she’s not too worried about the future of Sweet Creek because her family has a diversified income and doesn’t rely solely on cannabis.

The fires, many caused by lightning and sometimes pushed by strong winds, have burned hundreds of thousands of acres as they chewed through brushland, rural areas, canyon country and dense forest surrounding San Francisco. Fires also burned in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California wild lands.

Another Sonoma County cannabis farmer replied to a call for comment with a text message that said, “I’m evacuating. Sorry I can’t talk now.”

Santa Cruz operations threatened

To the south of San Francisco, in Santa Cruz County, longtime medical cannabis nonprofit WAMM Phytotherapies also likely lost a farm, said founder Valerie Corral. But she’s not even certain of the farm’s status because she had to evacuate Tuesday night.

“We just found out that probably everything burned” at WAMM’s farm in northern Santa Cruz County, she said, adding that a second farm, in southern Santa Cruz, was still untouched.

“It’s pretty awful here in Santa Cruz,” Corral said. “I have to be thankful that no one’s life has been lost.”

The WAMM farm was also uninsured, but Corral said she and her organization have been through worse and they’ll get back on their feet, one way or another.

Yet another series of fires in Yolo County, directly west of Sacramento, is threatening Preferred Gardens, said owner David Polley.

He said Thursday he’ll have to deal with smoke damage to at least 2,000 of his 12,000 plants, which he said might have to be destroyed.

What he’s worried about is the possibility of the winds shifting and that the fires might turn and begin heading south toward his farm.

“If this fire doesn’t get under wraps, then everything is going to go down,” Polley said. ” We’re just going to pray that doesn’t happen.”

If it does, Polley said, it could put his losses in the millions of dollars and potentially put him out of business.

But Polley, like others in the industry, remains stubbornly optimistic, and he pointed out that he’s been in the industry for 15 years.

“I’ve been through all different kinds of hell,” he said. “This is just another day.”

John Schroyer can be reached at

The Associated Press contributed to this report

New programs providing seed money for marijuana startups are popping up around the country. Could Bend follow?

New programs in Portland, and other progressive cities across the U.S., offer grants and loans to new cannabis businesses owned by people of color. Historically, arrests and convictions for pot-related crimes have disproportionally affected BIPOC communities.

Some believe investing in Black-owned cannabis business is one way to right the wrongs of decades of discrimination and incarceration for marijuana offenses. Without innovative programs to support undercapitalized entrants into the industry, wealthy people—largely white—will see most of the profits from legalization, the thinking goes. Further, right now most money from pot taxes goes to police departments.

Although their useage rates are similar, Black Americans have been arrested for cannabis offenses nearly four times the rate of white Americans. - PEXELS

  • Pexels
  • Although their useage rates are similar, Black Americans have been arrested for cannabis offenses nearly four times the rate of white Americans.


Marijuana taxes fund police


As the movement to “defund the police” sweeps the country, some Oregonians are looking more closely at the enormous budgets of state and local law enforcement agencies. Last year, out of the more than $100 million the State brought in from marijuana taxes, it spent more than $30 million on the Oregon State Police. On top of that, it redirected 10% of the funds back to counties for enforcement: Deschutes County received $400,000 from pot taxes last year.

In Bend, the City collected $700,000 in 2019 from an additional 3% tax it charges on top of the state tax which goes straight into the City’s General Fund, whose primary beneficiary is… you guessed it… cops.

One of the most problematic aspects of drug policing historically is that it has often disproportionally targeted communities of color. On a national level, despite marijuana usage rates between whites and non-whites being similar, Black Americans are arrested for cannabis offenses at a rate of nearly four-to-one compared to whites, according to a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Oregon is one of the only states that expunged the criminal records of those convicted of marijuana-only crimes. But despite the progress of legalization after 2015, minority communities in Oregon often have little means to start up their own dispensaries or cannabis growing operations.

A 2019 study revealed that in Oregon, marijuana stores are located disproportionally in disadvantaged neighborhoods but, less than 2% of all pot shops are owned by minorities. The same communities that were punished by the criminal justice system before marijuana was legalized now lack capital to benefit from the $725 million (Oregon, 2019) industry.


Racial justice provisions


The City of Portland is beginning to deliver on some of the racial justice provisions that were promised with the legalization of marijuana back in 2015. Just two months ago, the Portland City Council moved $27 million that was earmarked for the Portland Police Bureau and instead will invest it in restorative justice initiatives.

In 2019, Portland began a cannabis equity program—inspired by those in San Francisco and Oakland—which provides financial and technical assistance to people from communities with high levels of poverty or a history of drug arrests. Portland allocated nearly $500,000 to non-cannabis related business through this program last year, and $210,000 for marijuana businesses.

The City of Bend may bring in close to $1 million in marijuana tax revenues in 2020. Helping minority-owned startups could bring the industry some needed diversity and distribute the benefits more evenly among different communities. - ADOBE STOCK

  • Adobe Stock
  • The City of Bend may bring in close to $1 million in marijuana tax revenues in 2020. Helping minority-owned startups could bring the industry some needed diversity and distribute the benefits more evenly among different communities.

The money is granted through the NuLeaf Project, launched in 2018 to invest in and support business owners of color in the cannabis industry. Besides the grant program, NuLeaf provides mentoring, networking and educational programs to encourage more participation from the BIPOC community.

Adrian Wayman runs Green Box, which curates packages of cannabis, CBD and hemp projects and mails them out to customers on a monthly basis. In 2017, he received a grant from NuLeaf, and his story is one example of how a program like this can improve people’s lives that were once damaged by drug policing.

“I was arrested for cannabis possession, and that was always held over my head with employment and housing,” he told Filter, an online magazine for the cannabis industry. “So the City did exactly what they should have done to fix the wrong for something that should have never been a crime, and invested in my business. This is simply part of restoring the wrongs by giving me the opportunity to make a living, feed my family and have a successful business.”

Is Central Oregon ready to make progressive changes to the way it spends marijuana taxes? Is the additional $400,000 a year to Deschutes County to fund the Sheriff’s Office for pot law enforcement enough, without adding the City of Bend’s own pot tax into the budget of the Bend Police Department? In at least one way, the local area is trending away from more marijuana, with voters voting for a county-wide opt-out on new marijuana farms on November’s ballot. At the same time, Central Oregon hemp farms continue to proliferate.

None of the candidates for Bend City Council were willing to comment on supporting a program like Portland’s. But as the marijuana industry reaches maturity in Oregon, and growers produce way more than they are able to sell in the state, lawmakers have an opportunity to direct growing tax revenue streams into programs that aim to repair the drug crackdowns of earlier eras.

SF gives methadone, alcohol, cannabis to some addicts and homeless isolating from coronavirus in hotels

FILE - In this Thursday, April 2, 2020, file photo, workers in hazardous material suits clean inside the Abigail Hotel in San Francisco. The hotel is one of several private hotels San Francisco has contracted with to take vulnerable people who show symptoms or are awaiting test results for the coronavirus. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who made solving the state's homelessness crisis a priority even before the pandemic struck, announced in mid-March his administration was negotiating with 900 hotels to house the homeless. Two weeks ago he announced Project Roomkey, a program in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75% of costs associated with housing some homeless, including people who test positive or may have been exposed to the virus, and older homeless people and those with underlying health conditions. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)


Breweries are turning carbon dioxide into liquid gold

CO2 is captured from Denver Beer's fermentation cellar into this CO2 tank and then filtered into a liquid form into the CO2 tank to be utilized in The Clinic's cannabis plants.

an Francisco (CNN Business)Carbon dioxide is a precious commodity in brewing. The gas is what gives beer its fizz.

Although literally tons of it are produced during fermentation, CO2 is not easy or cheap for small brewers to capture, so it’s often vented into the atmosphere. Instead of grabbing that CO2 to carbonate beer, tanks of CO2 are trucked in from across the country to meet brewers’ needs.
Earthly Labs, a startup out of Texas, hopes to change that. The company wants to establish a recycling loop via a fridge-sized machine named CiCi — shorthand for “carbon capture” — that allows small breweries to trap their CO2, use it to carbonate their beers and potentially sell extra gas to others who need it.
Launched in 2016, Earthly Labs, based in Austin, Texas, operates as a public benefit corporation, meaning it’s a for-profit business that prioritizes contributions that are socially good — in this case, targeting one of the main greenhouse gases that contributes to the rapid warming the planet.
Earthly Labs’ goal is to avoid the emission of 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (about 26 billion trees) by making the pricey CO2 capture systems used by large, multinational companies economical enough for craft brewers and other small businesses.
“Our original vision: Breweries capture their waste and reuse it, save money and, in the process, save the planet,” Amy George, Earthly Labs’ founder and chief executive officer, told CNN Business.
But what started as an environmentally focused action is garnering increased attention for its potential economic benefits by some brewers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The closures of taprooms, bars and restaurants have breweries canning and bottling more beer. And looming over those brewers are heightened concerns about CO2 shortages.
Kaitlin Urso (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), Amy George (Earthly Labs), Brian Cusworth (The Clinic) and Charlie Berger (Denver Beer) checking the valves for Denver Beer's CO2 tank and Earthly Labs' CO2 recovery equipment that will later be used in The Clinic's cannabis plants.
The unit from Earthly Labs costs roughly $100,000, George said. Most brewers see a 2- to 3-year return on investment in normal circumstances; however, rising CO2 prices or supply constraints would accelerate that payback, she said.
Brewers need more CO2 at a time when those supplies and money have grown tighter.
“Our CO2 price doubled per pound,” said David Kroening, co-founder and president of Buoy Beer, a riverside brewery and restaurant in Astoria, Oregon.
Buoy was set to install an Earthly Labs system earlier this year, but those efforts were pushed to the back burner when Covid-19 hit and the brewery had to lay off nearly half of its staff.
“We stopped all capital projects until we saw where the cards were landing,” Kroening told CNN Business. “This one, when you layer in shortages and higher prices for CO2, kind of sped back up.”
Driving sustainability with cannabis and beer, these two tanks will hold 500 pounds of CO2.
CO2 acts like a nutrient for the indoor-grown cannabis. With the added boost, plants can grow larger and more vigorously, said Zach Engel, director of operations for the cannabis cultivator, processor and retailer.
The Clinic uses about 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of CO2 per month, and those tanks are trucked to its facilities from the East Coast. The CO2 from Denver Beer came from just 8 miles up the highway.
Engel estimates The Clinic shaved off about 20 cents per pound on its CO2 expenditures by using the Denver Beer product. Plus, tests have shown the brew-produced CO2 is more pure than what is produced during typical gas processing, he said.
How much CO2 is offgassed during the fermentation process varies by brewer and by the beer — brews with higher alcohol content produce more of the gas. Denver Beer estimates it produces about 10 pounds of CO2 per barrel, and the brewery pumped out 21,000 barrels of beer last year. It bought about 140,000 pounds of CO2 for its carbonation needs.
Having a willing customer on the other end could help breweries recoup their investments in the systems more quickly, said Kaitlin Urso, an environmental protection specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Urso spearheaded the pilot as means to help brewers and cannabis companies reduce their environmental impacts.
“Breweries produce way more CO2 than what they would actually reuse within their own operations,” she said. “This is a new way for them to think about it as a commodity.”

Part of the Bay Area sees ‘hazardous’ air quality as wildfires rage

Photo taken on Aug. 19, 2020 at the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve of San Mateo County shows the dense smoke of wildfires in San Francisco Bay Area. Photo: Xinhua News Agency/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images / Xinhua News Agency


LATEST, Aug. 23, 5 p.m. Air quality deteriorated across the Bay Area through the day Sunday and at 5 p.m. vast swaths of the North Bay, South Bay and East Bay were at “unhealthy” levels, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. (Find the latest air-quality readings here.)

A portion of the far East Bay around Antioch was “very unhealthy” and levels were “hazardous” around Livermore. With these sooty conditions, the district advises people to stay indoors and close windows.

Due to an ocean breeze, San Francisco saw more clean air Sunday evening and was in the moderate range.

Aug. 23, 9 a.m. Dozens of wildfires around the Bay Area continue to emit massive plumes of wildfire smoke, spreading sooty air across the region Sunday.

Will conditions improve any time soon?


“I would love to say ‘yes’ to that question, but my concern is we have so many fires in the area that until they’re really out, we’re going to continue to get smoke,” said Cindy Palmer, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Monterey.

Along the coast early Sunday, smoke was trapped under a deep marine layer. In San Francisco the Air Quality Index rose to 125, putting it into the “unhealthy for sensitive persons” category. The smell of smoke was strong outdoors.

“At this point in time, there’s so much smoke, it just got trapped under the inversion,” said Palmer.

The Air Quality Index operates on a scale from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. An AQI value of 50 or below represents good air quality, while an AQI value over 300 signals hazardous conditions.

San Rafael reached an AQI of 125 Sunday morning, Gilroy 116 and San Jose 129, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. (Find the latest air-quality readings here.)

An ocean breeze is forecast to pick up along the coast through the afternoon, blowing smoke inland into the East Bay and Central Valley. These inland valley areas have been blanketed in thick smoke all week and will see the same conditions today with unhealthy air-quality levels likely.

Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties are experiencing some of the worst air quality in the region due to the CZU August Lightning Complex fires, said Christina Chu, a spokesperson with the Air District. The North Bay is being impacted by the LNU Lightning complex that has burned 341,243 acres as of Sunday morning and is now the second-largest fire in state history.


Cooler temperatures and fog allowed firefighters to make some gains in containment on blazes, but Sunday evening into Monday morning, there’s a chance of thunderstorms with dry lightning and erratic winds in the forecast. The lightning could start new wildfires while the gusty conditions fan the flames of existing blazes in all directions, amplifying fire activity and growth.

“We do see some winds in the forecast, which is a double-edge sword,” said Chu. “Winds can blow smoke out of some areas, but it doesn’t help the firefighters with fighting fires.”

The Air Quality District has a Spare the Air alert in effect through at least Wednesday, warning of the high amount of particulate matter pollution in the air.

“It is illegal for Bay Area residents and businesses to burn wood or manufactured fire logs in fireplaces, wood stoves and inserts, pellet stoves, outdoor fire pits, or any other wood burning devices,” the district said. “In addition to not burning wood, you can help improve air quality by working remotely and driving less every day.”

The district advises residents to go inside if they smell smoke outdoors. And keep windows and doors closed.