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Medical marijuana company fined $142,000 for October 2020 explosion

15 April 2021

A producer of medical marijuana has been fined $142,000 (£102,000) in relation to an explosion that injured two people at a facility in Santa Fe, US in October 2020. The New Mexico Environment Department fined New MexiCann Natural Medicine on April 14 for six worker safety violations, including failing to implement controls for flammable vapours and ignition sources, and unsafe handling of hazardous chemicals.

In a statement, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) said it had cited New MexiCann Natural Medicine for violations at its facility located in Santa Fe for failing to:

• Ensure employees could quickly exit the facility’s cannabis extraction room in an emergency
• Control flammable vapours from an extraction system
• Control ignition sources
• Assess hazards and determine what protective equipment was needed for workers
• Implement a respirator program
• Institute a program to address hazardous chemicals.

The explosion on October 15 occurred during a cannabis extraction process and was caused when an employee spilled a mixture of ethanol and cannabis oil onto a heater plate. The incident seriously injured two workers, Josh Alderete and Josh Martinez, who were both transported to hospital by air ambulance.

The owner of New MexiCann Natural Medicine was charged with two counts of arson in February after he was accused of replacing a hot plate with one that goes against manufacturing standards. Alderete, who took over the cannabis extraction process in the absence of a colleague, said he warned Gonzales about replacing the hot plate and that it was set at too high a temperature.

Alderete was assisted in the extraction process by Josh Martinez who did not have the proper training. As a result of the fire and explosion, Alderete suffered burns on 37% of his body while Martinez spent several weeks in a hospital burns unit.

“The indifference shown to worker safety by this company is inexcusable,” said NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney. “Wilful violations of worker safety requirements must have consequences for employers – every employee deserves to come home from work healthy.”

The explosion in October came just five years after another explosion at the same facility which also severely injured two workers. The employees had been extracting THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, as part of a process that involves soaking cannabis with butane and then heated. The company was fined $13,500 by OSHA and cited for 12 “serious” violations in relation to workplace health and safety.

In relation to the October 2020 incident, New MexiCann has 15 business days from the date the citations were issued to pay the assessed penalties or contest the citations before the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission.

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