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Unions Blowing Smoke with "Green Lung" Myth

Updated February 10, 2020

What is ‘green lung’? Is cultivating marijuana to blame, or something else?

In case you didn’t catch the Colorado Senate Finance Committee hearing on April 18th regarding Publicly Traded Marijuana Companies HB19-1090, the term ‘green lung’ was introduced by Randy Tiffey, of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, as a hazard of working in the marijuana industry caused by improper ventilation, akin to the respiratory issues of black lung coal miners face. The term ‘green lung’ had no prior widespread medical use, nor is it medically defined. There is no data showing that there is a pervasive health or safety issues in the cannabis industry.


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In Colorado, state and local employees, teachers, and food and commercial workers, among others, are unionized industries. While unions may provide valuable benefits in these industries, the marijuana industry is drastically different than these industries. The marijuana industry is a heavily regulated industry and the testing programs are unlike the public safety regulations for any commodity in the world. Marijuana businesses are already taking proactive steps to ensure that their employees are protected, such as voluntary OSHA inspections as well as GMP certifications.

In a study published in 2017 by Colorado State University and the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health, titled Work and Well-Being in the Colorado Cannabis Industry, “cannabis industry workers generally felt like their businesses have strong safety policies, procedures and practices; and felt strongly that management values their safety.” Additionally, the study found that roughly 75% of the workers in the industry had some type of health insurance or coverage.

The importance of the Publicly Traded Marijuana Companies bill cannot be understated and is demonstrated by the Marijuana Enforcement Division’s support of the bill. The bill allows for additional capital investment, provides for more marijuana research to further ensure public safety, and will allow employees to receive better benefits such as stock option plans; all without the additional burden of unions. Jim Burack, Director of the Marijuana Enforcement Division, testified in support of the bill based on the fact that the bill will lead to more transparency and public safety in the industry. The union is using the term ‘green lung’ to bring awareness and highlight the need for healthy workplace environments for employees.

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