OSHA training comes to California Cannabis

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In another landmark shift, as California’s cannabis industry evolves from an underground movement to a regulated market, state rules now require permit holders to undergo extensive safety training from the state’s arm of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Just like adjusting to licensing hurdles and tracking timelines have proved an issue for the industry that is not yet two years old, the new safety training requirement is expected to definitely cause some hiccups in the licensing process for California cannabis businesses. Most notable is the confusion around whether you can take the course online — you can not. CAL OSHA’s in-person standard is a bit more rigorous than the federal one.

I actually took the OSHA training course myself. When not moonlighting as Cannabis Now’s senior staff writer, I’ve spent the last 10 years working at the Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Berkeley, so I’ll serve as one of the two OSHA-trained names when the dispensary renews its permit next year. Roughly 14,000 other people across the state’s 7,000 cannabis permits will have to take the class too.

My instructor for the class was Ted Schwartz, a retired longtime law enforcement officer who is now working to get the state’s cannabis industry trained and up to snuff for licensing next year. Schwartz founded Safety Training Group, one of two organizations believed to be offering a cannabis-adjusted version of the CAL OSHA 30 training. You can take the standard CAL OSHA 30, but a lot of it will have nothing to do with pot.

Schwartz offered examples of common hazardous situations at retailers, indoor grows, outdoor farms, and extraction facilities over the four days of training I took part in.

Schwartz said he saw the OSHA training requirement coming even before AB 2799 mandated it earlier this year, when a previous effort almost made it to the governor’s desk. “At that time, I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to go sooner or later,’” Schwartz told Cannabis Now. He believed that previous failing effort was just introduced a little too late to the state legislature.

Schwartz developed almost 1000 slides for the class that were as cannabis-specific as possible. He spent the last three years touring cannabis facilities and it gave him insight on what needed to be accomplished with the class.

“I could easily see, ‘Man, this is a problem here.’ Go to the next place, ‘This is a problem here,’” Schwartz said. “There were just too many misconceptions on safety issues out there.”

Schwartz taught his first version of the class in April. He said that he doesn’t think there’s much awareness throughout the cannabis industry that permit holders have to get the safety training. 

“I don’t think they understand it,” he replied. “I don’t want to say at all, but they don’t understand it completely. Maybe it’s because there is so much government regulation out there they just haven’t put it up on their radar screen yet.” 

Furthermore, even when he says permit holders do understand the OSHA training requirement, they see a class online where they can save a few hundred bucks and think that’ll suffice. “But they don’t realize none of that online stuff is in compliance because none of it is CAL OSHA,” he said.

Schwartz said the biggest surprise to him since starting to work with the cannabis industry is how professional it is. 

“I’m sure you can guess the type of person I dealt with in the cannabis industry when I was in law enforcement versus what I see now,” he said. “These are hardcore people that really want to produce a quality product and comply with the law.”

Schwartz said he has been getting calls from law enforcement asking how they can use this as a tool. 

“I’ve been hesitant on it, but if law enforcement knew they could walk in there and ask to see the two employees CAL OSHA 30 cards, they could refer you to the agency that deals with your license,” said Schwartz. 

So is it just an easy way to close a legal California cannabis company’s doors?

“Too easy,” Schwartz replied.

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