A Green Thumb Industries cannabis cultivation worker known to have breathing problems died suddenly the morning of July 14 at the company’s facility in Rock Island, Ill., Cannabis Business Times confirmed with local authorities.
The victim, identified as 60-year-old Julie Devinney, died from natural causes after performing routine “minor stretches” during a roughly 10-minute period at the facility upon arriving for her 6:30 a.m.-noon shift last Friday, according to a Rock Island police report.
Green Thumb has not responded to requests from CBT for comment.
Devinney, whose co-workers told police she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a history of severe breathing problems, was scheduled to work the same 5 1/2-hour shift Monday through Friday and had been with the company for approximately three years, according to the police report.
Devinney’s supervisor, Amy Hermiston, advised local authorities that within the last year the Rock Island Fire Department responded to the Green Thumb facility approximately three to four times due to Devinney “not being able to breathe,” according to the police report. Devinney was “often transported to the hospital for these issues.”
A different Green Thumb worker from the Rock Island facility, who spoke to CBT under conditions of anonymity, said Devinney originally worked in office fulfillment, but, when Green Thumb reduced several office positions in the facility, Devinney was reassigned to the preroll production department. CBT has not confirmed Devinney’s position with Green Thumb.
“I guess she had a panic attack and then that turned into something worse, and then she ended up passing away,” the worker told CBT. “I wasn’t there for it, but when I got there, there was a lady in the cafeteria that was crying, and then she had told me, ‘I’m friends with her.’ And I don’t know if she was in there with her or not, but she said she passed away and then all the people that were in there with her started filtering in, and they all looked just traumatized.”
Local authorities received a 911 call from Michael Hess at 6:42 a.m. July 14 in reference to Devinney having difficulty breathing. Hess identified himself as a production technician, a title he told police he and Devinney both had, according to the report.
After hanging up, Hess called 911 again to report that Devinney had stopped breathing and CPR had been started, according to the police report. The Rock Island Fire Department arrived on the scene approximately six minutes after the original 911 call and began medical treatment, according to the report.
Approximately 25-30 minutes later, fire department officials asked the Rock Island Police Department to respond to the scene and reported that Devinney had died inside the facility, according to the report.
“I checked [Devinney’s] purse, which was on a table next to her body, and located an inhaler and Nitroglycerin,” Rock Island Officer Austin Frankenreider wrote in his report. “Deputy Coroner [Tanner] Cessna conducted an investigation and determined the cause of death to be from natural causes.”
Nitroglycerin is a medicine used to prevent and treat chest pain (angina), and it works by relaxing blood vessels, which decreases the amount of work the heart has to do, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
While the coroner’s office in Illinois ruled Devinney’s cause of death to be of natural causes, questions remain about workplace safety in the cannabis industry following the death of 27-year-old Lorna McMurrey last year after an incident at a Trulieve cultivation and processing facility in Holyoke, Mass.
According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) accident investigation summary, McMurrey collapsed while filling prerolls with kief (ground-up cannabis dust) in early January 2022 at Trulieve’s Holyoke facility. “The employee could not breathe and was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust,” the OSHA summary, which was later deleted from the report, originally stated. (At the Green Thumb site in Illinois, two OSHA complaints remain “open,” filed May 4 and June 23, 2023, though no specific information on those complaints is publicly available.)
While the details in Rock Island are still unfolding, it remains unclear if Devinney was working the same job as McMurrey, and, if she was, how much time she spent in Green Thumb’s preroll filling department with her COPD health condition.
The Green Thumb worker who spoke under conditions of anonymity with CBT regularly worked in the same department as Devinney, which, according to this source, was the “joint rolling” room.
“They have the machines where they’re packing the cones or whatever—the prerolls. And that really kicks up a lot of trichomes into the air,” the worker said. “And, you know what, I’m in good shape: I’m strong, I’m a runner and stuff, but I’m in there for 20, 30 minutes and I start coughing. So, I know if somebody’s in there every day, that’s going to add up … it accumulates in your lungs.”
Do the Green Thumb workers have to wear personal protective equipment in this room?
“No,” the worker said. “The people that spray pesticides will have gas masks on, and they get fit for them, but that’s it. There are the medical masks as you walk in, if you want one, but I mean, I don’t know if that would help so much with the trichomes, like the cheap medical masks. And sometimes you’ll see a couple people with those on now and then, but not too often. There’s piles of trichomes in a lot of these rooms. It piles up.”
According to the source, Green Thumb had moved a machine that agitates and grinds up the dried cannabis flower for the prerolls into a separate room from where the employees who fill the prerolls work. This action came after “people were having physical problems from it,” the worker said.
“But then they ended up moving it back into the room where people were having the problems,” the source said. “So, I don’t know. You can see people that are working the machine, and they’ll be bent over coughing. It’s very irritating to the lungs.”
Do the workers who work in this room go through safety training with the company?
“We’ll do a safety meeting with a test every few months or every couple times a year. But I can’t think of anything about trichomes in the air or anything like that at all,” the source said. “It mostly has to do with, you know, hurting your hands and cutting your hands. And that’s what they’re worried about quite a bit. But they don’t ever really talk about trichomes in the air or safety with wearing masks or anything with that.”
Following Devinney’s death, the facility workers were sent home for the remainder of the day on Friday, the source said.
On July 13, the day before Devinney died, she left work early because “she wasn’t feeling well,” Hermiston (her supervisor) told Rock Island authorities, according to the police report.
Hermiston advised the police that Devinney was complaining the previous day because she felt anxious and “was scared to take a deep breath,” according to the report.
This was not unusual for Devinney to feel this way, her co-workers told police.
“I hear some people at work saying, ‘Well, she was a heavy smoker’ and this and that,” the source told CBT. “And it’s like, you know what? She [originally] worked in the office. That doesn’t mean she should have a job to risk her life unnecessarily.”