Cannabis regulators confirm agency was told quickly of worker’s death

Investigation into Trulieve conditions began before Lorna McMurrey’s passing

THE STAFF AT the state Cannabis Control Commission was notified of cannabis cultivation worker Lorna McMurrey’s death within days of when it occurred, agency officials said Friday night, despite earlier statements by two commissioners who said they learned of her death from the media. The commission also said it had already been investigating conditions at the Holyoke facility at the time of her death.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, newly appointed commission chair Shannon O’Brien and commissioner Bruce Stebbins both said they learned of the circumstances surrounding McMurrey’s death from the media in September. McMurrey died January 7, 2022, after being unable to breath while handling ground cannabis dust during a shift at the Holyoke cultivation facility run by multi-state marijuana company Trulieve. Commissioners and staff declined to say Thursday whether Trulieve had not notified the commission or commission staff had not informed commissioners, although O’Brien did say it was an issue “we as commissioners are speaking to staff about.”

On Friday, Trulieve issued a statement to CommonWealth saying the company informed the Cannabis Control Commission within 24 hours, as required by state law, and kept commission staff abreast of an ongoing investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

After CommonWealth ran a story reporting O’Brien and Stebbins’s initial comments, Cannabis Control Commission spokesperson Tara Smith issued a lengthy statement Friday evening making clear that staff at the regulatory agency were informed of the death soon after it occurred. “The Commission became aware of Ms. McMurrey’s passing on or around January 10, 2022, and has collaborated with state and federal agencies, including the state Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has primary jurisdiction of incidents involving workplace safety,” the statement said.

Smith said there are procedural reasons why the commissioners themselves would not be aware of ongoing investigations by commission staff. “To avoid pre-judging any applicant or licensee, Cannabis Control Commissioners are not customarily privy to investigations that are being performed at the staff level. If an investigation leads to an administrative enforcement action, Commissioners hold a place as ultimate arbiter in any appeal procedure,” she said.

The commission also for the first time said that its investigation into the facility, which is ongoing, began even before McMurrey died. It said the company is cooperating. “The investigation originated in the Fall of 2021 due to employee complaints,” Smith said. “During that time, Trulieve has been responsive to agency requests for information.”

In general, the statement said, “The agency follows up on concerns and allegations such as whistleblower and citizen complaints pertaining to regulatory violations by licensees. In general, the Commission conducts on-site inspections in response to complaints.”

The statement reiterated that the commission sends condolences to McMurrey’s loved ones, and takes the safety and welfare of cannabis employees, patients, and consumers seriously. The commission, it said, “has been and will continue to coordinate with public health officials to understand any contributing circumstances.”

The latest comments from the CCC confirm comments from the company itself. Trulieve said in its statement Friday: “We reported the incident of an employee collapsing in one of our facilities within 24 hours to the Massachusetts CCC back in January when it occurred. We also reported it to OSHA. Since that first communication with the Massachusetts CCC, we have continually updated them about each new development that includes any facility visit from OSHA. We have had multiple back and forth documented correspondence with several members of the Massachusetts CCC throughout the entire process.”

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.