A professional joint roller died after inhaling ground cannabis dust at a legal weed production facility this January, in what may be the first death ever to be directly attributed to cannabis.
Lorna McMurrey began having extreme breathing difficulties while working a late-night shift at a Massachusetts facility operated by Trulieve, a Florida-based multistate cannabis operator. McMurrey was rushed to a nearby hospital, but physicians were unable to save her and she passed away later that night. Full details about McMurrey's death were never made public, but according to a report from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the 27-year-old died from inhaling cannabis kief.
“At 11:00 p.m. on January 7, 2022, an employee was grinding cannabis flowers, and packaging ground cannabis in pre-rolls,” the OSHA report explained. “The employee could not breathe and was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust.”
After completing their investigation, OSHA charged Trulieve with 3 serious violations of federal workplace safety rules. The feds are demanding that the company cough up $35,219 in fines in connection with these violations, but Trulieve has contested each of these claims. The company has yet to issue a full statement on their employee's accidental death, so further information on the story has remained scant.
But after ten months of silence, more details have finally emerged. Last week, a local podcast called The Young Jurks released an episode about McMurrey's death. In the podcast, host Mike Crawford interviewed McMurrey's stepfather Dave and several current and former Trulieve employees. The host revealed that McMurrey suffered from asthma and other health issues that could have contributed to her death, but also addressed concerns that Trulieve wasn't following proper safety protocols.
“We don’t know what happened in this situation but definitely there are questions, concerns, uncertainty,” Crawford explained, according to WeedWeek News. “We’re not saying Trulieve did anything wrong.”
Crawford doesn't specifically blame Trulieve, but the employees he interviewed criticized the company's overall health and safety practices. A man who identified himself as McMurrey's former supervisor told Crawford that he “had quit about a month prior to her passing due to the horrific management and corruption that I witnessed daily as a supervisor within the facility.”
And according to her stepfather, McMurrey said that Trulieve was not providing her or other employees with proper respirators. “I know they weren’t giving her masks,” Dave said, according to WeedWeek News. “I had to sneak them out of my shop to bring them to her. Supposedly there’s a very dusty environment in these rooms…when they’re processing the stuff.”
“All I know is she passed out at work, and she lost oxygen,” Dave continued. “She had a brain injury and she was dead. She went to work and she didn’t come home. Her mother went to OSHA and she’s trying to file a wrongful death suit against Trulieve. That’s all I know right now.”
This tragic situation appears to be the first time that someone has ever died from consuming cannabis dust. But recent research suggests that it might not be the last time. Researchers have found that weed industry employees are at an especially high risk of breathing in mold, organic dust, pesticide residue, and toxic organic compounds. The greatest concentration of these irritants occurs in areas where weed is trimmed, ground, and rolled into joints.
A 2020 research study found that 70% of the employees at two Washington state legal weed facilities were experiencing abnormal lung function, and half showed evidence that they were actually becoming allergic to cannabis. Despite these clear and evident risks, most adult-use states have not established effective guidelines that can ensure that weed industry workers are protected from these potentially-deadly respiratory toxins.