Occupational Safety and Health in the New Mexico Cannabis Industry

The fast paced, growing cannabis marketplace is 12 years strong in the land of enchantment. With businesses expanding and gearing up for legalization, employment numbers are naturally rising in the medical cannabis industry, giving many the opportunity to “get in” at any minute!

According to Kelly O'Donnell’s market analysis report on Legalization of Cannabis for Social Use, “In its first year, the New Mexico social use cannabis industry is expected to generate over three times more revenue than the state’s entire pecan crop and employ twice as many people as are currently employed in the state’s motion picture and sound recording industries.”

But just how focused are we on the safety and health of the growing cannabis workforce?

According to a recent article by Safety + Health, titled “Colorado cannabis workers lack safety training, survey shows”, nearly half of workers in Colorado’s legalized cannabis industry have received minimal or no workplace safety training, according to a recent study from the Colorado State University Department of Psychology. This information is interesting considering the fact that Colorado is one of the few states with initiatives around Marijuana Occupational Health and Safety in the workplace through their state’s Department of Public Health & Environment. However, as with every regulated industry, compliance and safety training falls on the shoulders of the companies who hire human resources, not necessarily on the state.

Small states like New Mexico, where funding is tight, have trouble prioritizing to be proactive on behalf of the professionals operating in a high risk federally illegal, state regulated industry, such as the marijuana industry,

New Mexico OSHA does not, at this time, have anything in place to guide the workers or the employers in the different cannabis businesses models (Licensed Non Profit Producers, Manufacturers, Labs, Couriers) that require safety and security. They currently follow federal guidelines with regards to the industry, meaning it’s illegal and they don’t have separate state rules or a guideline for employers to use to train or work on OSHA audits. They do, however report cannabis companies who violate OSHA and report employee injuries.See the OSHA update and BLS statistics for 2015 showing two injuries in a Santa Fe extraction explosion.

The Department of Health Medical Cannabis Program (NMDOH), does oversee patient and caregiver applications, personal production licensing, business licensing and applications, workforce licenses or MCP ID cards, the petition process and more. They are not the occupational health and safety department like the New México OSHA folks, but they do help to process a various systems of checks and balances in accordance with the NMACs that provide the regulations for the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. These New Mexico Administrative Code documents, require employers to have policies and procedures in place for safety and security training. (See NMAC 7.34.4 8. N, O, and 9 H.)

A focus on patient care and customer service always starts with standardized tactical training for the staff. Besides the obvious liability reasoning behind compliance training, it is no secret that the medical marijuana industries in most states have a diverse culture where a lot of staff are also patient customers of medical cannabis programs. This type of enmeshed culture leaves everything out in the open for employers and a true opportunity for improvement within the entire industry. Researchers recommended that employers in the cannabis industry “develop, implement and repeatedly evaluate” safety and health training programs for their workers.”

As the industry continues to operate without priorities around this topic, who can provide assistance to the 35 producers, and 14 Manufacturers of cannabis in New Mexico if not provided by the state or the companies themselves?

Professional staffing and training companies like Cannabis NM Staffing are investing in the workforce and creating solutions by partnering with employers and employees across the state to offer a yearly Safety and Security Course geared especially towards cannabis professionals operating under the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. Safety and Security is one of six compliance classes of state specific customized training offered for the workforce through the online and in classroom Cannabis Training Center by Cannabis NM Staffing.

As states like New Mexico use job market growth talk and numbers as an opportunity to demonstrate positive potential economic outcomes of legalization, infrastructure is key for the medical cannabis industry workforce to prepare for this big advancement that we are “leaning on” to help us pass laws and break public stigmas.

The more awareness we can bring about this and other important subjects the better chances that we have at helping businesses to keep the workforce safe.

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