Pot and Preparedness: Are there issues with Marijuana Legalization?
As states and tribes legalize marijuana, are there any problems that emergency managers face? Regardless of personal/political opinions, are there tertiary impacts we in the profession should be thinking and advising our political leaders about?
As states and tribes legalize marijuana, emergency managers are faced problem of controlling the impact of a disaster without the assistance of federal programs that are heavily relied upon. The Emergency Management Cycle is the standardized method emergency managers use to understand how to approach their job. Each of the cycle’s four phases present a unique problem for consideration concerning marijuana legalization. This article is one in a series of four articles related to marijuana legalization and potential issues related to Emergency Management. This article asks whether or not legalized marijuana grow facilities need to coordinate a pre-plan with their local fire department to better avoid possible tort liability.
Note: This article does not state a position on the legalization of marijuana and merely identifies potential issues for emergency management as it is legalized at state and tribal levels. This article should not be considered legal advice. Consult with an attorney
Background: Marijuana grow facilities often pose significant hazards to firefighters. These hazards stem from complex ventilation, facility layout, and electrical wiring (often violating codes). Despite training, these hazards become nearly impossible to avoid given the existing complexities of a structure fire. This is compounded by the mixture of THC and chemicals used in cultivation giving emitted smoke a sickening effect, rather than giving a “high”.
Hypothetical: The current legislation to legalize Marijuana in Wisconsin is approved. A year later there is a fire at an indoor grow facility in Madison. The Madison Fire Department and HAZMAT respond. The facility is partially saved; however, four fire fighters are seriously injured and two of the apparatus’ (fire truck) were damaged and attributed to code violations at the indoor grow facility. Will the firefighter’s and fire department separate civil claims against the owner succeed?
Answer: While the firefighters may likely succeed the department may have issues. The common law firefighter rule generally bars a firefighter’s negligence claim. However, in Clark v. Corby, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found a valid negligence per se claim based the violation of local housing ordinances and hidden hazards. 249 N.W.2d 567 (Wis. 1977); accord Peak v. Cent. Tank Coatings, Inc., 606 F.App’x 891 (10th Cir. 2015). Here, the hidden hazard exception will likely allow the firefighters to succeed. So long as the strict guidelines are followed, Wisconsin statute allows agencies seek reimbursement from a property owner whose negligence caused a HAZMAT incident for actual, reasonable, and necessary expenses included involving the release or potential release of HAZMAT. The issue comes in with the tedious processing requirements. If not strictly adhered to, the agency might forfeit reimbursement.
Next Step: Though sometimes annoying, it is imperative for legal marijuana growers to comply with all building and zoning ordinances at all times. Further, facility owners should work with the local fire department and allow a “pre-plan” for the department’s emergency response to the facility.