Were cannabis regulators left in the dark about Holyoke death?

IT TOOK EIGHT MONTHS after Lorna McMurrey died after working a shift at a Holyoke cannabis cultivation facility for the circumstances of her death to be publicly reported. Comments made by state cannabis regulators Thursday suggest that, astonishingly, they might have been just as in the dark as the public.

Cannabis Control Commissioner Bruce Stebbins was appointed to the commission December 15, weeks before McMurrey’s January 7 death at a facility operated by Florida-based cannabis company Trulieve. Yet Stebbins said he only learned of the death last month. “I found out about it through the media,” Stebbins said.

Cannabis Control Commission chair Shannon O’Brien took office September 1. “The first I heard of this was when I read it in the paper,” O’Brien said Thursday. “I think that’s an issue.”

The first time McMurrey’s death was publicly reported appears to be by cannabis activist Mike Crawford’s “The Young Jurks” podcast in late September. It was then picked up by other media outlets, including CommonWealth.

Because a Cannabis Control Commission investigation is still ongoing, neither O’Brien nor Stebbins was willing to say whether Trulieve had notified commission staff and the information had not made it back to commissioners, or whether the company had failed to notify the CCC at all.

Trulieve says it did inform the CCC of McMurrey’s death in January and kept state regulators abreast of the OSHA investigation that occured that month. “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,” Trulieve said in a statement issued Friday. “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.” 

Under state regulations written by the CCC, a marijuana business is required to notify law enforcement and the commission within 24 hours of “An alarm activation or other event that requires response by public safety personnel, including but not limited to local law enforcement, police and fire departments, public works or municipal sanitation departments, and municipal inspectional services departments, or security personnel privately engaged by the Marijuana Establishment.”

The Holyoke police have confirmed that there was an ambulance call to the Trulieve facility when McMurrey experienced a breathing problem that day. She was taken to the hospital, where she died.

A cannabis commission spokesperson confirmed last week that the agency is investigating Trulieve over McMurrey’s death. The commission denied a public records request seeking more information because investigatory materials are exempt from disclosure. But the investigation is likely to look at whether there was a reporting issue. It is also expected to explore whether Trulieve complied with state rules requiring companies to maintain sanitary conditions in their facilities.

While the other commissioners did not speak to the media after the meeting, Commissioners Nurys Camargo and Ava Callender Concepcion both made their first public comments about McMurrey’s death at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, offering condolences to her family and friends. “It was sad, it was tragic, and it was unfortunate,” Camargo said, adding that it is a reminder that “employee safety and health is crucial.”

Concepcion said the commission takes its investigation “very seriously” and “we’ll be able to provide more information as things come along.”

It is public record that at least one regulatory body was alerted to McMurrey’s death in January. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation January 11. OSHA fined Trulieve $35,000 on June 30 for violating safety standards related to communicating with employees about hazardous materials. Trulieve appealed, so that investigation remains open. The OSHA fine provided the first public official documentation into the incident.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Occupational Health Surveillance Program is also investigating the death as part of its Massachusetts Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Project, or FACE. DPH has not said when that investigation began.

FACE conducts research-oriented investigations of fatal occupational injuries to learn about factors that contribute to these incidents and make recommendations on how to prevent future incidents. The reports can take years to conclude. FACE issued four reports in 2021 based on incidents that occurred in 2018 and 2019, and one report so far in 2022 related to a 2019 death.





Unions back DiZoglio: Public sector unions have made a huge investment in Sen. Diana DiZoglio’s campaign for state auditor, including $631,000 spent by two super PACs financed primarily by the National Association of Government Employees, the International Association of Firefighters, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

– The union money represents nearly half of all the money spent supporting DiZoglio in her race for auditor over the last five months..

– DiZoglio has promised to be a voice for labor in the auditor’s office and expressed skepticism about any privatization efforts in state government. The auditor plays a critical role in approving privatization initiatives in state government. Read more.

Marijuana license put on hold: State marijuana regulators declined to approve a license for a company that was once headed by the new chair of the Cannabis Control Commission. The regulators asked staff to make sure the change in ownership, removing chair Shannon O’Brien, was handled properly. Read more.

Unfunded mandates: Auditor Suzanne Bump said the state came up $1.2 billion short in aid promised to cities, towns, and school districts. Read more.





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