Florida marijuana company Trulieve — whose dispensaries span nine states, including Massachusetts — reached a settlement late last week with federal workplace safety regulators over the death of a worker at its cultivation and processing facility in Holyoke.
Earlier this year, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the national pot conglomerate more than $35,200 for several violations related to the January death of employee Lorna McMurrey, who was filling pre-rolled joints with ground marijuana when she told coworkers she couldn’t breathe and collapsed. The agency attributed her death to “occupational asthma due to exposure to ground cannabis” dust, but also exonerated Trulieve of direct responsibility, saying the company had not failed to protect its workers.
As part of the settlement, Trulieve will pay a reduced fine of just over $14,500 for failing to conduct a hazard analysis, as well as conduct a study on whether ground cannabis dust constitutes a “hazardous chemical” under OSHA regulations, the company said. It also agreed to implement an employee protection program that “alerts employees to potential allergic reactions they might experience working with ground cannabis dust” and educates them on steps they should take if they experience symptoms. The company further promised to investigate “options to better limit access and exposure to the areas where commercial grinding of cannabis occurs.”
“We’re pleased to have entered into this agreement with OSHA,” said Kim Rivers, Trulieve’s chief executive, in a statement. “We are proud of the many protections we have already put in place for our workers. However, as an industry leader in what is still a relatively new manufacturing business, we want to continue to establish best practices, so our workers can have the health and safety assurances they need.”
McMurrey’s stepfather, Dave Bruneau, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement. He previously told the Globe that McMurrey had asked if she could borrow respirators from his workplace in the weeks before she died, causing him to become concerned she wasn’t safe at the Holyoke facility.
The belated disclosure of McMurrey’s death in September prompted widespread condemnation of Trulieve, including from a former supervisor for the company who said there was a culture of silence at the Holyoke plant that prevented workers from speaking up to executives about safety concerns. Two local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers union are trying to capitalize on that backlash by organizing Trulieve workers at the Holyoke facility, plus the company’s retail stores in Framingham, Northampton, and Worcester.
Marijuana employees, labor leaders, and cannabis advocates have also criticized the state Cannabis Control Commission, which conceded in October that it was already investigating complaints from employees of the Holyoke facility when McMurrey collapsed.
More than a year after they first began probing the facility, regulators at the state marijuana agency have yet to provide any substantial updates on the investigation. The long delay has intensified doubts about whether the commission moves quickly enough to intervene when workers may be in danger, and whether the state’s voluminous regulations on pot products contain sufficient worker protections.
The five appointed commissioners who lead the cannabis agency did not learn of McMurrey’s death until it was publicized nine months later, with staffers saying they intentionally left their bosses in the dark to preserve their independence as the ultimate arbiters of any settlements or disciplinary actions against licensed marijuana companies.
The commission did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.