Today I want to break away from my usual format and take a closer look at the emerging occupational hazards for those employed in manufacturing medical and adult-use marijuana. While medical marijuana provides immense benefits to many, such benefits should not come at the expense of those who make their living growing and processing cannabis products.
It has just been reported that a 27-year-old employee of Trulieve Cannabis in Holyoke, Massachusetts died while at work in January 2022. She was grinding flower and filling pre-rolls when she developed trouble breathing due inhalation of ground cannabis dust (kief). It appears that the dust coated her lungs and she suffered an asthma attack and died. It is reported that she has not been diagnosed with asthma prior to her employment.
OSHA is still investigating and did issue three citations against the facility for violations but not specifically for the death. Reports are unclear and inconsistent as to whether protective breathing gear was used, available or required.
This is not the first time a the cannabis industry has been investigated for respiratory hazards with the adequacy of ventilation and protective equipment being questioned. The NIH has identified employees of marijuana cultivators/processors as being at heightened risk of respiratory issues and of developing work-related asthma especially when the facility is indoors. The study can be found here:
There is also evidence that those working in such facilities are at risk of developing allergic reactions from contact with the plants as well as breathing issues not just from dust, but mold that develops in the highly humid growing environment. This is in addition to the hazards that exist at any large scale manufacturing plant.
Ultimately more research needs to be done but steps can and should be taken now by cultivators to increase ventilation, provide adequate protective gear/clothing and to train employees as to the potential risks. This improves employee health and reduces the exposure for potentially costly and tragic workers’ compensation claims. As a workers compensation attorney, I have seen the devastating impact breathing dust and pollutants can have on employee health. I am confident that those who benefit from the use of medical cannabis do not want to see those who manufacture these products be injured or killed as a result, and would support increased protections for workers.
I will continue to monitor and report on this emerging workers’ compensation issue.