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Examining Job Conditions in the Cannabis Cultivation Industry

In January 2022, a devastating incident shook the U.S. cannabis cultivation industry. At a Trulieve Dispensary in Holyoke, Massachusetts, a 27-year-old worker tragically lost her life to an asthma attack.

This marked a somber milestone: the first known asthma-related death in the nation’s cannabis production sector. 

The tragedy brings to light critical health concerns in an industry that has seen rapid growth. It demonstrates the urgent need for increased awareness and safety measures to protect workers in this evolving field.

Here’s what happened and what it could mean for the future of cannabis cultivation safety. 

Background on The Incident and Federal Report Findings

This incident was a key focus of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) report

In May 2021, Lorna L. McMurrey began working at a cannabis facility in Massachusetts. Her role involved areas where cannabis was ground. By July, she developed nausea, coughing, and lost her sense of taste and smell.

Despite several negative SARS-CoV-2 tests, she showed signs of respiratory distress. She had no prior history of asthma or allergies but started showing symptoms like a runny nose and breathlessness.

In October, her work shifted to grinding cannabis flowers, increasing her exposure to dust. The vacuum used lacked a HEPA filter, leading to visible dust escape. Her co-workers noted her worsening cough, especially around the grinder. Efforts to minimize her exposure included relocating her workstation and using personal protective equipment.

On November 9, she experienced severe shortness of breath while working and was taken to an emergency department. She received asthma treatment, although she had no history of the condition. Her mother noted that she only struggled with breathlessness at work.

By January 2022, her respiratory issues had worsened. While working, she suffered a severe asthma attack, and despite resuscitation efforts, she fell into a state of anoxic brain death and eventually passed away. No autopsy was performed. This incident highlighted the potential for severe health risks in the cannabis industry.

The CDC concluded there was a critical need for thorough workplace exposure assessments. They also stressed the importance of regular medical surveillance for employees. By closely monitoring environmental conditions and workers’ health, such tragedies can be prevented. These measures are vital in ensuring the safety and well-being of workers in the cannabis industry.

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The Trulieve Dispensary’s Response

This untimely death of Lorna McMurrey puts a spotlight on the real risks faced by workers in cannabis facilities. Despite the gravity of the situation, Trulieve, the company involved, remained notably reserved in their response. Their limited communication about the incident has drawn attention and criticism.

This lack of detailed response from Trulieve raises significant concerns about the industry’s commitment to transparency and worker safety. As a result, the dispensary was sued by McMurrey’s family, and in June 2023, it was announced that Trulieve would be closing its doors throughout Massachusetts for good. 

Advocacy for Enhanced Safety in The Cannabis Cultivation Industry

Industry watchdogs and safety advocates have raised their voices following this incident. They are strongly emphasizing the need for tighter safety regulations within the cannabis cultivation industry.

These experts are calling for comprehensive measures to protect employees from similar hazards. They argue that improved safety protocols, such as better air filtration systems and stricter allergen controls, are crucial.

Their goal is to prevent tragedies like McMurrey’s from happening again. 

By advocating for these changes, they aim to ensure a safer working environment for all employees in the sector. This push for enhanced safety standards reflects a growing concern about worker well-being in an industry that is rapidly expanding.

Final Thoughts

These tragic incidents in the cannabis cultivation industry serve as a stark reminder of the importance of worker safety. It highlights the urgent need for improved safety standards and regulations. In addition, the deaths of these young workers are not just a loss for their families but a wake-up call for the entire industry. This calls for action to strengthen safety measures and enforce stricter regulations.

Ensuring the safety of employees in this rapidly growing field is more than a responsibility; it’s an ethical must. Companies must prioritize the health and well-being of their workers, recognizing that their safety is integral to the industry’s success. This involves not only adhering to existing regulations but also actively seeking ways to improve them.

Moreover, this incident should encourage a broader conversation about workplace safety in emerging industries. It’s an opportunity for leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders to collaborate and establish a culture of safety that transcends individual companies. By learning from this tragedy and taking proactive steps, the cannabis industry can set a positive example for others to follow.

Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

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