Marijuana producer fined $142K after Santa Fe fire injures 2

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A medical marijuana producer in New Mexico has been fined $142,000 for worker safety violations related to a fire at a Santa Fe facility last October that seriously injured two employees.

The New Mexico Environment Department fined New MexiCann Natural Medicine on Wednesday citing six violations, including failures to implement a respirator program, controls for flammable vapors and ignition sources, and handling of hazardous chemicals.

The company was fined as the state Department of Health seeks to revoke its license to produce medical cannabis. The department has not yet made a decision on the license.

The fire started after two employees were in the midst of a cannabis extraction process, authorities said. One of the employees spilled a mixture of ethanol and cannabis oil onto a heater plate, causing the fire. New MexiCann, which has been licensed since 2009, closed its main facility in Santa Fe where the fire occurred.

“The indifference shown to worker safety by this company is inexcusable,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said. “Willful violations of worker safety requirements must have consequences for employers — every employee deserves to come home from work healthy.”

Company owner Carlos Gonzales, 56, was charged in February with two felony counts of arson. He is accused of switching out a hot plate that caused the fire with one that goes against manufacturing standards.

Josh Alderete, who suffered burns on 37% of his body, was asked to take over the extraction process in the absence of a co-worker and warned Gonzales about changing the hot plates. He also said the plate was set at the highest setting — 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius) — against manufacturing standards.

Josh Martinez, who spent several weeks recovering in the University of Colorado Medical Center burn unit, told investigators he was asked to assist in the process despite lacking the proper training.

New MexiCann has 15 business days from the date of the citations to pay the penalties or contest them before the state Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission.

It is the second fire-related incident at the facility after an explosion occurred there in 2015 that also injured two employees. The company was fined $13,500 in that case.

Gonzales and company attorney John Day declined to comment.