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Marijuana farmer’s dreams go up in smoke during California wildfires

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Andrew Lopas’ plans to bring his marijuana business out of the black market with a legal, profitable and organic pot farm went up in smoke in the wildfires that have scorched Santa Rosa, California.

After four decades of growing pot illegally, the 54-year-old saw an opportunity last year to start a legitimate business serving the medical marijuana market.

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Last Sunday, as the wildfires, which have now killed at least 40 people, first erupted, Lopas’ cannabis farm in Santa Rosa went up in flames, leaving behind the stumps of two chimneys, heaps of ash, charred marijuana plants and a despairing entrepreneur. [nL2N1MP07S]

After moving into the farm last November, he had been only days away from his first harvest.

Lost in the conflagration at Mystic Spring Farms were 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) of cannabis worth an estimated $2 million, $10,000 in cash to pay the mortgage and workers, a farmhouse that dated back to the 18th century, trailers and farm vehicles, and 900 marijuana plants.

“That was all our eggs in one basket,” Lopas said. “We were devastated.”

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California’s newly legalized marijuana industry was hit hard by the deadliest blaze in state history.

Fires consuming communities north of San Francisco have destroyed almost 30 pot farms in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties and significantly damaged a similar number, according to the California Growers Association. Those are a fraction of the estimated 15,000 pot farms in the region.

California is the source of most of the nation’s illegal marijuana farming. Humboldt and Mendocino counties, in the cannabis-growing region known as the “Emerald Triangle”, have led the state’s production.

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FLEEING FROM FIRE

California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, despite a federal ban, and last year approved recreational use of the drug by adults. Since then, the state has been developing rules to allow recreational sales.

Lopas said he and his girlfriend, Monika Meyers, were focusing on the medical marijuana market, taking a “wait and see” approach to the developing recreational market.

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Medical marijuana businesses in California are expected to operate as non-profit cooperatives, but beginning in January 2018 they can apply to run as for-profit companies, according to the California Franchise Tax Board.

Lopas fears the fires have irrevocably destroyed many farmers in Sonoma County. He said marijuana’s illegal status on a federal level means farmers cannot qualify for federal aid in disasters and most do not have crop insurance that would cover the fire losses as there are not adequate policies available.

Lopas’ first warning of the rapidly approaching fire was flickering lights in his greenhouse as he worked last Sunday evening. He smelled smoke, and when the wind picked up, he and Meyers fled, grabbing little more than some clothes and their two dogs.

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Lopas, who has grown marijuana since he was a teenager and sold it illegally much of his life, said he wanted to make his farm a shining example of regulatory compliance and environmentalism, spurning the pesticides that many illegal farms use to boost yield.

“We were trying to bring the industry out of the dark,” he said.

Lopas has had trouble sleeping since the loss and worries how he will repay his investors. But he is not giving up.

“We want to rebuild,” he said. “This property is too special to me.”

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(Reporting by Heather Somerville, additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Ben Klayman and Mary Milliken)


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Accused child molester Roy Moore defends Brett Kavanaugh: ‘I too was the object of false allegations’

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Accused child molester Roy Moore on Wednesday came to the defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault.

Moore's remarks came after The New York Times published accounts from a new book, which found that two of Kavanaugh's accusers were credible.

In a statement to the press, Moore defended Kavanaugh on Wednesday.

"I too was the subject of false allegations, but unlike Justice Kavanaugh and others who have suffered the ire of the left, I filed suit against my accusers and their conspirators," Moore said. "For over two years, I have not seen nor been able to question any of those who went on national television tol tell their false stories just 32 days before the election in December 2017, and ironically I have been sued for defamation for merely denying their false and malicious accusations."

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Trump says ‘many options’ on Iran response

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US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he has "many options" in addition to military strikes against Iran and that details of newly announced sanctions will come within 48 hours.

Asked by reporters about a possible US attack on Iran, Trump said "there are many options. There's the ultimate option and there are options a lot less than that."

He explained that by "ultimate option" he meant "war."

Trump said that the specifics of sanctions he announced earlier would be made public "over the next 48 hours."

US ally Saudi Arabia says Iran was behind a missile or drone attack setting ablaze major oil facilities last weekend.

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Bermuda braces for Hurricane Humberto

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Residents of the tiny British archipelago of Bermuda battened down the hatches on Wednesday ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Humberto, a major category 3 storm packing fierce winds and punishing rain.

The Miami-based US National Hurricane Center put the center of the storm about 225 kilometers (140 miles) west of Bermuda at 1800 GMT, with maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometers per hour.

The core of the large storm was expected to pass to the northwest of Bermuda later in the day or overnight, dumping as much as 15 centimeters (six inches) of rain. A heightened storm surge is possible.

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