Business

Following employee’s death, Trulieve fined for comms. violations

By Alex Halperin
Oct 3, 2022
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Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, Courtesy Trulieve

Following the death of a Massachusetts factory worker, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined MSO Trulieve $35,219 for communications-related violations. Trulieve is contesting the fines.

Twenty-seven year-old Lorna McMurrey, died January 7 from inhaling cannabis dust (kief) while making prerolls, a process that uses an industrial cannabis grinder. One of her co-workers told WeedWeek that McMurrey had “terrible asthma” [Updated 10/13/22: OSHA no longer lists a cause of death.][Clarified 10/22/22: OSHA previously issued the following cause of death, but has since removed it from its report: “At 11:00 p.m. on January 7, 2022, an employee was grinding cannabis flowers, and packaging ground cannabis in pre-rolls. The employee could not breathe and was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust.”]

McMurrey’s death came to light last week after podcast The Young Jurks interviewed her stepfather.

Lorna McMurrey
Lorna McMurrey died of kief inhalation on January 7

Trulieve released the following statement Monday, apparently the only one since McMurrey’s death:

In January of this year, Trulieve experienced the loss of one of our team members, Lorna McMurrey, who was working in our Holyoke, Massachusetts facility. Our hearts go out to Ms. McMurrey’s family, friends, and colleagues as the circumstances around her passing have recently resurfaced, resulting in their having to reexperience their loss.

Out of respect for the family’s privacy, we are not going to provide any details as to the specifics of that day. However, OSHA conducted a thorough investigation of the Holyoke facility. PPE was available onsite. They tested the air quality throughout the facility and the samples were all well below acceptable ranges. OSHA did issue citations related to communication standards and Trulieve has contested those findings.

We cherish and value all of the 9,000 employees who make Trulieve a family and the safety of our team members is paramount to our core values.

The company did not respond to additional questions.

Following McMurrey’s death, the three fines OSHA levied against Trulieve were all for communications-related violations. The 12-page OSHA document cites:

  • “The employer did not compile a list of the hazardous chemicals in the facility, including, but not limited to, ground cannabis:” Proposed penalty: $6,215
  • “The employer did not obtain or develop a safety data sheet for hazardous chemicals, such as, but not limited to, ground cannabis: Proposed penalty:” $14,502
  • “Employees working with hazardous materials including, but not limited to, ground cannabis were not provided effective information and training on the hazards of the material:” Proposed penalty:” $14,502

In an accompanying letter, also provided by OSHA, area director Mary E. Hoye wrote that the agency wouldn’t cite Trulieve “at this time for not protecting employees from the hazards of exposure to ground cannabis, [which is subject to the OSHA’s governing law.] However, in the interest of workplace safety and health, I recommend that you voluntarily take reasonable steps to address the issue.”

Local site The Shoestring reports that Trulieve has had two previous encounters with OSHA:

  • In March, Trulieve was cited for an OSHA violation in Reading, Pa. The case remains open. 
  • In 2019, OSHA cited the company at its grow facility in Quincy, Fl. The case is closed. [Update: 10/22/22 The status of these cases has been updated]

“It’s a nascent industry”

“It’s a nascent industry and there are generally very poor safety protocols in place with most of these businesses,” Alan Romero, an employment lawyer based in Pasadena, Calif., said.

The process of contesting OSHA fines can go on for years. Romero, who is not involved in this case, said that in the contesting process companies commonly, “accuse the employee of engaging of contributory negligence, in which [they] skirted protocols put in place by the employer, resulting in her death.”

Romero said Trulieve’s decision not to make a public statement is common under similar circumstances. “It’s to avoid any sort of snowball effect, an adverse PR situation that can challenge a company’s viability.”

This year Romero’s firm filed several lawsuits against SoCal operator Jungle Boys, on behalf of five former employees, all women, alleging discrimination and related claims. The cases are ongoing. (Legal research supported by Unicourt.)

“They ran it a lot without the filter”

A Trulieve employee who worked with McMurrey and said they were at the factory the night McMurrey died, told WeedWeek:

“She had trouble every time they ran the grinder. They ran it a lot without the filter because it was so much work to clean the filter and they (leads) never wanted to do it. They had a small room they called the preroll room and the grinder was in there and she was working in there on that fateful day.

“They ran the grinder and she started having an attack and was stating that she couldn’t breathe. She went into a full asthma attack and they called 911.”

It caused confusion in the huge building. The company had shrunk its outside security team and there weren’t “enough people to direct the emergency services,” according to the employee.

The emergency team, “faced a lot of difficulty actually getting into the building due to contamination practices. They were delayed for a period of time due to someone having to make the decision to let them in without Tyvek [clean room] gear.”

“When they wheeled Lorna out of this building she was a grey blue color and we all knew it was bad,” the employee wrote.

Trulieve didn’t dispute the account. [Update 10/22/22: Trulieve disputes this account.]

Florida-based Trulieve is one of the largest U.S. cannabis companies. It’s currently restoring operations in the wake of Hurricane Ian. 

Do you know about issues of workplace safety in the cannabis industry? Contact alex@weedweek.com. Messages will be received on background by default, meaning you will not be identified as a source publicly or privately. Following initial contact, we will switch to encrypted communication.