Editor’s note: This is an ongoing article. CBT will provide updates as more information becomes available.

As questions linger more than 10 months after Lorna McMurrey’s death at Trulieve’s Holyoke, Mass., cannabis cultivation and processing facility, state regulators recently provided a statement to the media offering sympathy and a genesis for their investigation.

McMurrey’s death—which only recently drew nationwide attention from the cannabis industry following the release of a Sept. 25 podcast episode from The Young Jurks—remains an ongoing investigation. The open investigation is the basis for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to withhold recent public records requests from the media.

According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) accident investigation summary, McMurrey, who was 27, collapsed while filling prerolls with kief (ground-up cannabis dust) in early January at Trulieve’s Holyoke facility. “The employee could not breathe and was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust,” the OSHA summary, which has since been deleted from the report, stated.

CBT contacted U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) officials, who oversee OSHA, asking for a comment on why the summary portion was deleted from the report. The DOL’s response: “The inspection is being contested and we do not have any updates.”

Trulieve confirmed with CBT that McMurrey’s collapse occurred Jan. 4 and that she died Jan. 7 in the hospital (at the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., according to her obituary).

It wasn’t until October that CCC officials released a statement to the media.

“The [Massachusetts] Cannabis Control Commission sends our deepest condolences to Lorna McMurrey’s family, friends, co-workers and loved ones,” a commission spokesperson wrote in in the statement obtained by CBT. “The commission takes the safety and welfare of registered agents, patients and consumers seriously and has been and will continue to coordinate with public health officials to understand any contributing circumstances.”

The statement also revealed that CCC officials began investigating Trulieve’s Holyoke facility in fall of 2021 “due to employee complaints,” and that the investigation remains active. Based in Tallahassee, Fla., Trulieve has been responsive to agency requests for information, according to CCC.

Massachusetts cannabis regulators became aware of McMurrey’s death “on or around Jan. 10” and have collaborated with OSHA, which has primary jurisdiction of incidents involving workplace safety, as well as state officials from the Department of Public Health, according to the release. However, CCC staffers who were in the know did not relay details of the incident or the subsequent investigation to the agency’s five appointed commissioners, according to the statement.

“To avoid prejudging any applicant or licensee, Cannabis Control commissioners are not customarily privy to investigations that are being performed at the staff level,” the spokesperson wrote. “If an investigation leads to an administrative enforcement action, commissioners hold a place as ultimate arbiter in any appeal procedure.”

Trulieve officials said they informed CCC personnel—specifically Compliance Officer Debra Brown and Investigations Manager Nicole Trant—of McMurrey’s Jan. 4 collapse within 24 hours of the incident, and also kept the state cannabis regulators informed on the OSHA’s subsequent investigation, CommonWealth reported.

But CCC Chairwoman Shannon O’Brien, who was appointed in September, and commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who was appointed in January 2021, told reporters they were oblivious to McMurrey’s death until September, when media coverage went viral (nine months after the incident), the Boston Globe reported. A CCC spokesperson confirmed with the news outlet that staffers did not brief the five appointed commissioners. 

In June, OSHA officials handed Trulieve more than $35,000 in fines—which the multistate operator contested the next month—in relation to three workplace “hazard communication” violations, specifically for failing to properly train workers on occupational hazards and failing to keep records of hazardous materials at the facility.

Trulieve released a statement earlier this month in which company officials said, “OSHA conducted a thorough investigation of the Holyoke facility. PPE was available on-site. They tested the air quality throughout the facility and the samples were all well below acceptable ranges.”

The Trulieve Holyoke facility, bought for $3.2 million in 2019, is a 150-year-old mill building that the company acquired with plans for vertical integration in its 126,000-square-foot capacity, masslive.com reported. Trulieve’s Holyoke license was awarded in June 2020.

Lezli Engelking, founder of FOCUS (Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards), an independent certifying agency specializing in GMP and workplace safety, told CBT that she has ongoing concerns about health and safety standards in relation to the cannabis industry.

“This thing that happened in Massachusetts didn’t have to happen,” she said. “My concern is that this is not going to happen at just Trulieve.”

The Holyoke facility wasn’t Trulieve’s first to receive OSHA fines. In 2019, the company’s Quincy, Fla., location was issued “respiratory protection” and “hazard communication” violations, according to an OSHA inspection report. In March 2022, Trulieve’s Reading, Penn., facility was issued $7,700 in fines for violation of an OSHA standard relating to “reporting fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye as a result of work-related incidents to OSHA.”

Engelking said that Massachusetts OSHA officials approached licensed cultivators with safety data sheets describing the health hazards of “combustible dust” in the months following McMurrey’s death.

But details of the ongoing investigations remain unclear, including the number of Trulieve Holyoke worker complaints, the number and descriptions of possible injuries or incidents involving employees, the results from any inspections at the facility, and the matter of why the CCC investigation has remained active for 10 months.

While state-legal cannabis programs remain among the most tightly regulated sectors in the U.S., worker protections are an ongoing charge as cannabis continues to be the fastest growing industry in the country.

Massachusetts cannabis commissioners recognized a need for employee safety at their Oct. 13 public meeting. Commissioners Nurys Camargo and Ava Callender Concepcion both commented on McMurrey’s death at the beginning of the meeting, expressing their sympathy.

“I know we have an open investigation into the incident at Trulieve in Holyoke,” Camargo said. “But it’s also a reminder to the industry, to us at the CCC, and the employees working in this sector; employee safety and public health is crucial everywhere.”

OSHA guidance made available on the office’s website currently lists publications no more recent than 2013, each one detailing fire and explosion hazards facing firefighters. A 2020 review of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s cannabis-related safety materials took a close look at how, precisely, companies might best protect workers in this emerging industry.

“Employees in cultivation and processing facilities may be exposed to allergen and respiratory hazards through the inhalation of organic dusts including fungus, bacteria, and endotoxin as well as [volatile organic compounds] such as diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione. These hazards were most evident during the decarboxylation and grinding of dried cannabis material, where elevated job-specific concentrations of VOCs and endotoxin have been measured,” according to the review. “This is a rare opportunity to study the wide array of exposures and health effects from the beginning of an industry instead of retrospectively evaluating relationships after years of exposure.”

Engelking said that what companies need (and what states must require) is a health and safety program, environmental monitoring program, proper ventilation, and the like.

Digital Editor Eric Sandy contributed to this report.

 

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