Cannabis growing outdoors

What are the occupational health and safety risks associated with cannabis cultivation?

Many of the same hazards faced by other agricultural workers exist in the cannabis industry. An important distinction is the lack of a safety infrastructure due to the informal and underground nature of the industry historically.

Preliminary research completed by WCAHS investigators suggests that workers can encounter diverse biological hazards; chemical risks or pesticide exposure; and physical hazards related to repetitive motion tasks, lifting heavy loads, bending, and stooping.

How do state cannabis laws impact occupational health and safety?

The quasi-legal status of the industry and the small, remote location of most outdoor facilities affects estimates about the industry’s size, workforce, and illness or injury rates.

Currently, medical cannabis is legal in the western states of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii, and only California and Nevada have legalized recreational cannabis within the past five years. Under federal law, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug— substance or chemical with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

What is WCAHS doing to address these risks?

WCAHS investigators are working to estimate the size and composition of the cannabis workforce in California, including the geographic and demographic characteristics of both the labor and farm types, and to determine the key health and safety issues of the industry as a whole as well as for specialized worker job categories.

To date, investigators have performed a review of the existing scientific literature related to occupational health and safety in the industry, as well as visiting three outdoor and two indoor growing facilities in Northern California, one distribution facility for cannabis extraction equipment, and one extraction facility. During these visits, they observed production processes, catalogued possible worker safety and health issues, and conducted informational interviews with owners and workers at the facilities.