New Problem for Legal Marijuana: Exploding Pot Factories

February 21, 2019 AT 7:25 AM

By Rebecca Rainey

States are facing a new danger as legal marijuana spreads across the country: Explosions and fires at cannabis factories are sending workers to the hospital with severe burns, revealing the nascent industry's lack of proper safety standards.

In the 33 states where the drug is legal for medical or recreational use, at least 10 fires or explosions have occurred in the past five years at facilities that extract hash oil used in edible products. Nearly all resulted in serious injuries for production-line staff.

“The extraction process is continuing to evolve," Raymond Bizal, director of California and Oregon regional operations for the National Fire Protection Association, told POLITICO. "The fire-safety industry has to play catch-up.”

Most of the states where marijuana is legal offer no safety and health guidance for the new industry. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which researches work-related injury and illness, has conducted only two hazard evaluations of legal marijuana facilities, neither of which focused on the extraction of hash oil. Even in those states that do offer safety and health guidance — Colorado, California, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington — fire safety officials complain that worker safety protections are often inadequate.

Worker safety is a matter of growing urgency because legal marijuana is a booming business. In 2018 there were an estimated $10.4 billion in U.S. sales of legal medical and recreational marijuana. That translated into 259,000 jobs, according to cannabis research firm New Frontier Data. Some estimates project sales to reach $40 billion by 2021.

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