HOLYOKE — The City Council called on the mayor and Board of Health to develop enforcement and inspectional mechanisms for the burgeoning cannabis industry in the aftermath of a worker’s death in January.
Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon filed an order after the worker died at Trulieve, a marijuana manufacturing facility at 56 Canal St. The council approved the order and findings Tuesday.
Vacon said she shared a conversation with a Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission staffer. She noted the commission holds enforcement authority over the state’s retail, recreational and medical marijuana entities.
The commission is part of an ongoing investigation of Trulieve, which also involves the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. She said Trulieve has been under active investigation since early 2021.
“It’s not seeking us to get involved in an ongoing investigation, but to seek clarity and steps moving forward,” Vacon said, “relative to regulating and enforcing and inspecting a fast-growing business in our city.”
Vacon added the city issued 69 special permits for cannabis operations, including retail outlets and massive growing and cultivation operations. Trulieve occupies the former Conklin Furniture building.
Special permit petitioners must present plans to the Building Commissioner, Planning and Economic Development Office, Board of Health and Holyoke Police Department, which reviews security plans.
Health director Sean Gonsalves appeared before the Ordinance Committee on Oct. 25, saying the city could adopt enforceable ordinances.
Vacon’s order recommends Mayor Joshua A. Garcia and Board of Health proceed with plans to bolster inspection and regulatory capabilities. In addition, she suggested the city tap into over $3.5 million in cannabis impact fees it collects.
The funds are aimed at offsetting adverse impacts on the community and infrastructure projects related to the industry. “This was seen by the committee as a good use of those funds in light of the death of a worker,” Vacon said. “Unfortunately, it did bring to all of our attention along with some other enforcement questions that have been coming up.”
The Board of Health lacks the resources and staffing to inspect cannabis facilities.
According to reports, Lorna McMurry, 27, collapsed during a shift at Trulieve in January after accidentally inhaling cannabis dust during manufacturing. She experienced difficulty breathing and later died at a hospital.
Councilor-at-Large Kevin Jourdain said most residents support Holyoke’s cannabis business sector, which has revitalized old mills that were struggling, abandoned or crumbling. Regardless of personal feelings about marijuana use, a consensus realizes the cannabis industry will remain and expand in Massachusetts, he added.
Jourdain said residents should expect the city to “inspect and enforce the rules.” The City Council places conditions on all cannabis special permits, including hiring percentages, prohibiting on-site usage, security details, taxes and observing state laws, including workplace safety.
Jourdain added the mitigation funds should go to inspectional services, application assistance and “ramping up” monitoring of cannabis businesses.
“It’s going to be a challenge to this council, our departments, and the mayor to make sure we follow through with this,” he said, “so that if there are any problems, we have a process in place that we can properly investigate these things and to make sure people are held accountable.”
In a related matter, Ward 4 Councilor Kocayne Givner filed an order to “pause” accepting new cannabis business permit applications. The order excludes delivery services for existing businesses.
If approved, the moratorium would stay in place “until there are systems, staff/departments to support associated health and safety code enforcement as outlined by the Cannabis Control Commission and the City of Holyoke.”
The Ordinance Committee will take up Givner’s order later in the month.
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