The debate over the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in California involved many "pro and con" arguments about the effect of legalization on the state's population. One issue that was not debated at length was the hazards involved in making the drug itself.
After a worker at a company located in Santa Cruz was badly burned during the marijuana extraction process, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the accident. The investigators found that a worker was using propane gas to extract oil from cannabis leaves inside a portable storage container. Propane is highly flammable when it is mixed with the right amount of oxygen. According to the agents from Cal/OSHA, a spark generated by the equipment being used by the lab tech ignited the propane, causing a fire and an explosion. The worker was badly burned and spent several days in the hospital.
Cal/OSHA found several workplace safety violations during its investigation. Three of the violations were described as serious accident violations and seven involved improper training and an inadequate emergency action plan. The company was also charged with failing to report the accident to Cal/OSHA. The agency fined the company $50,470.
The TV station that reported the investigation and the imposition of the fines said that it was unable to reach the company for comment. The company has not yet announced whether it will appeal the fines, but the incident should serve as a warning to anyone who works in the legal cannabis industry that making marijuana can be very dangerous. As with any industrial process that involves the potential for fire or explosion, the manufacturer must devise and implement adequate safety standards and train their employees in appropriate safety measures. The failure to implement or enforce such standards can be the basis for a lawsuit to recover damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.