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Santa Fe pot business cited for violations in explosion; video released

SANTA FE – The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has completed its investigation into an explosion that put two local marijuana dispensary employees in the hospital with serious burns, and as a result New MexiCann Natural Medicine has had to pay several fines for employee safety and health violations.

The state Environment Department also released video of the horrific explosion Tuesday, which shows the dispensary going from completely normal to engulfed in flames in just a flash.

OSHA has fined New MexiCann, one of the state's 35 medical marijuana dispensaries, for a total of 12 “serious” violations to workplace health and safety totalling $13,500. This comes after a roughly eight-month investigation into how employees Nicholas Montoya, 29, and Aaron Smith, 28, were badly burned in an explosion and fire while making concentrated hash oil on July 23.

Both men were taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center before being flown to University of New Mexico Hospital, where Montoya was listed as critical for some time.

Two inspections were conducted, one for safety hazards and one for health hazards. The safety investigation netted seven “serious” violations, meaning the infractions that can result in serious injury or death, according to Robert Genowy, bureau chief of Environment Department's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau.

New MexiCann was initially charged $14,500 for those seven infractions, but Genoway said Tuesday New MexiCann paid an informal settlement of $7,250 reached some time last month as the company did not contest the violations.

The health inspection found five serious infractions, for which New Mexicann paid fines to the tune of $6,250. Citations for the health investigation were issued in December while citations for the safety inspection were issued January. Online records show that inspectors verified in January that there were no continuing hazards.

The explosion happened while Smith and Montoya were making hash oil, a dangerous process that involves soaking marijuana in butane to extract tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Video from the incident shows the blast happening as Smith opens a door to leave the room while Montoya is doing the extraction. The room is immediately engulfed in flames, and Montoya struggles to find an exit while pieces of the roof come crashing down on him. Smith spent three weeks in the hospital and had skin grafts on his hands, arms and legs. Montoya underwent several surgeries and got a lung infection but was upgraded from critical to serious condition after a few weeks at UNMH.

A report from the Santa Fe Fire Department said a butane leak from one of the lines met with an ignition source to cause the blast, which was powerful enough to separate the roof from the wall and melt fluorescent lights close to the explosion. Fire inspectors couldn't pinpoint what caused the ignition, but noted that the extraction equipment is moved often and could have caused a leak in one of the butane lines.

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