Seattle — The cannabis industry needs federal regulations and guidance on workplace safety, according to University of Washington professor and researcher Christopher Simpson.

Because cannabis use is illegal at the federal level, workplace protections in the cannabis industry have been “totally left up to each state to try to figure out for themselves,” Simpson said in a recent press release from UW’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. “State regulators did their best in setting up health and safety rules, given they had very little to base them on. But now we are starting to see where the gaps are.

“The reality is workers are working in this industry, whether the federal government agrees with it or not. Federal agencies really have a responsibility to protect these workers.”

To help address industry concerns, Simpson served as guest editor of the August edition of the journal Annals of Work Exposures and Health. The cannabis-specific special edition includes 10 research articles on workplace exposures to mold, dust, secondhand smoke, pesticides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. Other articles focus on allergic and respiratory symptoms among workers in indoor grow facilities, as well as health and safety training programs.

Simpson said all of these are increasingly important concerns because of the estimated 250,000 workers in the industry – a number that grew 15% in 2019, according to the cannabis news website Leafly.com.

With the size of this workforce increasing, Simpson said more injuries are being reported, such as slips, trips and falls in retail locations, along with ergonomics injuries and respiratory issues. Simpson also calls on states to use some of the tax revenue from cannabis sales for occupational health and safety concerns and additional public health research on the impact of cannabis.

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