Hazards of Cannabis Production

by | May 3, 2021

Written by Deborah Agboola

Cannabis is increasingly becoming one of the most explored botanical plants in nature. Endowed with vast benefits, therapeutic and recreational alike, cannabis has been extensively researched for use in more enriching forms. 

However, recent alarming incidents at cannabis-dedicated facilities around the world have raised concerns. With a significant portion of these accidents linked to the nature of solvents used in extraction processes, most of these accidents result in extremely dastardly outcomes. 

Besides explosive risks and related hazards, accidents in a cannabis extraction facility can be manifested as asphyxiation from CO2 exposure, dust-related health issues from cannabis dust, health complications arising from inhaling harmful vapors, hearing losses from running extraction machines, and many more. 

Yet, of the many, the danger of dealing with flammable liquids and gases remains the main trigger of these accidents, noting the alarmingly high rate of disasters. 

The Case Studies in Cannabis Extraction

With the growing integration of cannabis laws in the United States, the last five years have been filled with more cannabis-related fires and explosions. And while some of these mishaps were promptly controlled, most escalated; resulting in devastating consequences:

The Santa Fe Dispensary Case

The summer of 2016 will remain evergreen in the minds of residents of Santa Fe, Oregon that experienced the explosion of a local medical cannabis dispensary. Subsequent investigations of the accident, which sent two workers to the hospital for third-degree burns, discovered it was caused by improperly extracting THC with butane. 

Although the accident primarily revolved around seven violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), similar butane-related occurrences have been on the rise in states like Washington and Colorado, reaching up to a hundred. 

The Fire on Boyd Street

“An explosion at a hash oil supplier in Los Angeles has left 11 firefighters injures, three of them critically,” authorities said.

Around 6:30 pm local time, firefighters responded to a structure fire call at 327 East Boyd Street, Los Angeles. According to chief Ralph M Terrazas, the first responders noticed a “light to moderate smoke,” but with the increasing pressure and heat they felt inside, “things didn't seem right.”

At this point, the firefighters moved to evacuate the building, but just as they started to, city fire Capt. Erik Scott said, “one significant explosion” shook the neighborhood and the firefighters inside had to run through a wall of flames he estimated as 30 feet high and wide. Those on the roof scrambled down a flaming ladder with their protective coats also aflame. 

As over 200 firefighters rushed to the scene, with dozens of engines, trucks, and rescue vehicles parked on the street, the fire spread to several nearby buildings. All three cannabis facilities housed within the building were charged with more than 30 violations, while their owners were sentenced to over 40 years in jail.

This incident was similar to another major fire at a local business in 2016, which started with the explosion of pressurized gas cylinders and took more than 160 firefighters to quench the blaze. 

The Arizona Marijuana Facility Case

On the evening of April 12th, 2018, the Coolidge Fire Department responded to a call concerning a marijuana cultivation facility within the area. The call reported a fire caused by a lightning strike; however, the crew soon discovered that the fire began internally – improperly stored hazardous materials.

Shortly after 7:30 pm, the crew managed to put out the fire, but not before it had significantly ravaged the facility. Initial damage estimates were set within the range of $100,000, according to then-Fire Chief Mark Dillon. 

Controlling the Danger

To address the persistent situation of butane-related explosions, the California legislature voted for statewide limits on butane purchase in 2017; but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. He undertook this action based on his belief in giving the legitimate hash oil industry a chance to comply with impending regulations, which included but were not limited to:

  1. All businesses in California licensed to use butane, and other explosive solvents are required to pay fees of up to $75,000 per year and must use standard equipment that contains the solvents.
  2. They must also pass fire code inspections and train employees on safety protocols. Businesses found to violate these rules or identified as a cause of cannabis-related accidents would be fined accordingly. 

However, despite these rules, more of these incidences kept occurring, causing Governor Gavin Newsom to sign Assembly Bill No. 3112, which adds non-odorized butane to the state's list of controlled substances in September 2018.