Do cannabis facilities need to comply with federal safety standards if it’s federally illegal?
The short answer is yes. The cannabis industry, which is still federally illegal, is trying to navigate through a confusing regulatory matrix. As of now the rule of thumb is that federal agencies do not want to know about or have anything to do with the State legal cannabis industry.
There are two federal agencies, though, that will show up to a licensed facility and pretend they are not witnessing a federal crime: the IRS and OSHA. The IRS is obviously very interested in getting their cut and they will even show up to a cannabis facility for a ‘friendly’ visit to remind the owners of all the forms and paperwork they need to now for this mostly cash based business. OSHA will also show up to a cannabis facility, but it will be far less friendly, because they will be responding to an incident that either injured or killed an employee.
OSHA will reach out to any other industry and offer tools and guidelines to help employers create a safe workplace. They are not currently available to assist our industry yet; they only will make themselves accessible once something has gone wrong. Nevertheless, the cannabis industry needs to prepare to comply with OSHA standards or face fines that start around $12,600 and go up to $126,000 for willful or multiple violations.
The same applies to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) which deals with pesticide application and handling. Its main purpose is to eliminate or minimize pesticide exposure among agricultural workers. The WPS is usually enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), another federal agency that wants nothing to do with this industry, but in Colorado the enforcement of the standard has been passed to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. At the moment, it appears most states will follow Colorado’s lead and empower their state agriculture agencies take on the EPA’s WPS responsibilities.
As this industry matures, there will be a lot of new rules and rule changes and it will be the individual facilities’ job to implement those changes. The one certainty is that all the federal occupational standards and rules will apply to this industry like any other. Prepare yourself.