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Worker burned in Santa Fe medical pot blast files suit

SANTA FE — One of the men badly burned in an explosion at a Santa Fe medical marijuana dispensary last summer has filed a lawsuit against the facility and its management as well as the other man who was injured in the blast.

The suit also alleges that New Mexicann Natural Medicine, one of the state’s 35 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, was not approved to do the hash-oil extraction process that led to the explosion.

Mark Aaron Smith

Mark Aaron Smith

Mark Aaron Smith is seeking lost wages and punitive damages for the injuries he suffered on July 23. He and fellow employee Nicholas Montoya were taken to a hospital with serious burns after an explosion and fire that took place while Montoya was extracting the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, in a process in which the pot is soaked with butane, then heated over flame to boil off liquid and create the paste-like hash oil.

Named in the suit is New Mexicann owner Len Goodman, along with Montoya and several others associated with the business. Goodman couldn’t be reached for comment late Friday.

The complaint says Smith suffered third-degree burns to a “high percentage” of his body, which caused a long stay in the intensive care unit at University of New Mexico Hospital, and that he needed multiple skin grafts and ongoing physical therapy. He now experiences pain, suffering and “loss of enjoyment of life.”

Montoya was in critical condition for some time at UNMH. Smith claims that Montoya asked him to assist in the butane extraction process, even though he “was not provided any training on the process, hazards or safety precautions concerning butane extraction.” The complaint says Smith has a background in culinary preparation and was hired by New Mexicann to make edibles for the company.

A large amount of liquid butane apparently spilled out onto the floor and created a large pool. Instead of cleaning it up, the complaint alleges, Montoya began using a heat gun directly over the spill.

Smith then opened the door, as seen on surveillance video of the explosion, when an ignition of the gas caused the explosion that engulfed the room in flames. It’s unclear exactly what sparked the gas.

The complaint says New Mexicann was only approved by the Department of Health for alcohol extraction operations with pot, but not butane extraction. The suit says the company requested approval from DOH for butane extraction operations, but had not inspected or approved by DOH or the fire marshal for operations involving flammable gases, including butane.

The complaint also claims New Mexicann once ordered Smith to remove the butane extractors from the building before DOH officials came for an inspection.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined New Mexicann a total of $13,500 for 12 “serious” health and safety violations that could have resulted in death, after an eight-month investigation that concluded in March.