After almost two years of preparation, a new report is out from a federal agency regarding worker safety in cannabis cultivation operations. And guess what? The report — prepared after visits to Farmer Tom Organics in Washington state — isn’t an alarmist piece of propaganda.
Rather than the usual dramatically apocalyptic scare stories, “Evaluation of Potential Hazards during Harvesting and Processing Cannabis at an Outdoor Organic Farm” makes such reasonable recommendations as, well, how to make trimming marijuana flowers more ergonomically friendly.The report is rightly seen as an epochal landmark in the historically edgy relationship between the United States federal government and the cannabis community, in that it doesn’t at all involve law enforcement.
Now, make no mistake about it. When federal agents visit a marijuana farm, it traditionally has not been a happy occasion. But times are changing.
But Farmer Tom Lauerman’s position as a federally recognized “organic cannabis farmer” and ongoing relationship with federal scientists has culminated in the recently released, first-ever Health Hazard Evaluation report for the cannabis industry being printed for release and also published on the Center for Disease Control’s website as of April 7.As slowly as the federal government moves when it comes to cannabis policy, at least it does eventually move. That’s amply illustrated by the fact that federal employees from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in 2015, visited Farmer Tom Lauerman’s marijuana growing operation near Vancouver, Washington.
It wasn’t a raid. There were no arrests. The scientists were there to help establish baseline worker safety standards and best practices for cannabis workers by conducting a federal Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE). The genesis of the idea had been the police union’s concern about the safety of officers who raided grow operations, according to Lauerman. At that point, the federal government realized it had no concrete data on the subject.
Representative T.J. Lauritsen, from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) accompanied the federal officials to the farm. Lauritsen said he picked Farmer Tom’s operation for the HHE after collaborating with Lauerman on worker training materials. The UFCW felt Farmer Tom’s small, organic operation would be a good baseline from which the feds could become familiar with marijuana operations, without overwhelming them with a commercial grow.The CDC agents, led by James Couch, basically “knew nothing” about cannabis, according to Farmer Tom. He invited them to the farm to introduce them to the community and concepts of organic cannabis farming. They first visited in August 2015, then returned to watch trimming in October.
‘My goal in working with them is to give them the data,” Farmer Tom said. “That’s why we set their return visit for October, when we could have stuff ready to trim.”
Everyone hit it off, according to Farmer Tom. They even went out and had beers together. And even more importantly, they got a glimpse at people who have integrated cannabis use into their daily lives and work.
“They looked on as we smoked weed throughout the day and saw that we were fully functional and engaged,” Farmer Tom said.As the group became more familiar with each other, things got relaxed and friendships emerged. Farmer Tom’s wife and partner, Paula, prepared treats for everyone as they relaxed and munched in the outdoor kitchen.
The NIOSH agents gave Farmer Tom and other workers “sniffer vests” that measure air quality. The quality of air inside the processing greenhouse was also measured for comparison to the ambient air of the farm.
Workers wore specialized “cyber gloves” as they trimmed cannabis flowers. The cyber gloves contained sensors to measure movements, analyzing for potential repetitive motion issues. Surfaces were swabbed for contaminants, including mold, as well as cannabinoids.
“They’ve turned out to be nice people,” Farmer Tom told me. “It’s unbelievable, how opposite it is to the way you’d think. They’re not really ‘agents;’ they’re scientists. They’ve all got PhD’s.”
It Took Awhile
“The Trump Administration is so vehemently anti, but they did finally pass this thing,” Farmer Tom told Toke Signals. “The new head of the Department of Health and Human Services — the head of it — had to put their stamp on this before it could go out. I had to wait a year for it.
“A year ago it went on the website for about four hours,” Tom told us. “Then some Senator got ahold of it and forced them to take it down off the site.”
“Then it was August, and in August they say, ‘We’re in an election year’,” Lauerman said. “And then it was November, and they said, ‘We’ve got a new Administration.’ And then it was February, and ‘We’re waiting for the new appointee.’ And then it was ‘It will be for sure by April 24.’ And then finally, on the 3rd or 4th, I got an overnight package.”
Farmer Tom Teaches the Feds about Weed
When the federal government scientists from NIOSH — specifically, the Industrial Hygienic Research Team for the Centers for Disease Control — arrived in August 2015, clipboards in hand, at Farmer Tom Organics, they received an intensive, three-day instruction as a prerequisite to the completion of the first-ever Health Hazard Evaluation scheduled for three months later, in November 2015, according to Paula.
Instruction consisted of emphasis on:
• The Importance of Organic Methods for the Growing, Production, and Processing of Cannabis for the safety and health of both on-site employees and end consumers.
• The Human Endocannabinoid System and Importance of Strain-Specific Cannabis flower processing for use in smoking, edibles, concentrates, and body care products. Discussed different biological effects and uses for Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and various hybrid combinations.
• Reduced Risk BHO Extraction – Closed-loop and Vacuum Purging Equipment;
• Other Solvent and Solvent-Free Cannabis Concentrate Alternatives – Vegetable Glycerin, Alcohol, CO2, Ice/Bubble Hash, Kief, Rosin, et al.;
• Cannabis Industry Laboratory Testing Methods for THC, CBD, pesticide/fungicide residues, fungal infections, et al.;
• ‘Wet vs. Dry’ and ‘Machine Trim vs. Hand Trim’ – equipment and practice;
• Organic Soil, Fertilizers, and Amendments – differentiating between available products labeled ‘organic’;
• ‘Full Spectrum Cannabis’ – Greenhouse Propagation and Grow techniques for the Highest Quality and Yield of Medical Grade Cannabis for Everyone – significant increase in Quality, and decrease in electrical and chemical usage when compared to growing indoors;
• Nitrogen packaging and sealing of products; and
• Organic Industrial Hemp for use in the production of fiber, rope, paper composites, food, plastic, fuel and other crude oil/ hydrocarbon substitutions.
After this initial three-day session, in November 2015 NIOSH returned to Farmer Tom Organics and spent three more days in the collection and propagation of specific test data. That information would later be assembled into the final CDC report using onsite people and equipment in all phases of cannabis harvest procedures, from cutting down and “big leafing” green plants, to shucking and trimming previously dried material.
Getting There, One Step at a Time
“I think it’s all about baby steps,” Farmer Tom said. “My position on this is just to normalize cannabis.”