Marijuana testing labs await state standards

By | October 15, 2013 | Comments

People buying marijuana from a Washington store next year can feel comfortable knowing that the pot they’re smoking isn’t contaminated by mold, pesticides or E. Coli.

Initiative 502 requires testing of marijuana before its sold to the public.

But the labs that will be testing Washington’s weed don’t yet know what standards they’ll be required to follow — an issue that Washington’s pot officials say they are working on.

“We’re really close to having the standards finished,” said Liquor Control Board consultant Randy Simmons.

Simmons said the state is working on a draft “monograph” book that will set the standards for how labs should test marijuana for THC potency, microorganisms and pesticides.

“We’re hoping in the next few weeks to have a final monograth and then labs will know how to move forward,” Simmons said.

Marijuana testing is not new. Analytical 360 began testing marijuana two years ago in a small space in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. The lab now tests test an average of 50 samples a day, and they’re upgrading to a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Georgetown this fall.

Demand for their services was initially driven by medical marijuana patients who wanted to know more about their medicine, said chief operating officer Ed Stremlow. Cultivators quickly got on board because they wanted quality control of their crops — “just like in agriculture” — and to protect their profits, he said.

To test marijuana, the lab’s scientists first take a photograph and enlarge it to look for bugs and mold. About 30 percent of the samples that come through the lab have mold levels that are too high, Stemlow said.

Another common find? Pet hair. “You’ll find a lot of dog and cat hair in indoor grows,” said Brenton Dawber, another co-founder of the lab who walked TVW through the testing process.

The marijuana sample is weighed, dried in ovens for 24 hours to remove moisture, and then ground up. Solvents are added to extract the cannabinoids, and the material is eventually run through a machine that analyzes the data.

The entire testing process takes roughly 48 hours and costs about $60 a sample.

Analytical 360 plans to get certified once the state standards are in place. They don’t anticipate having any problems keeping up with the estimated 96 samples a day that will come from the state. “We’re already doing half that number now,” Stemlow said.

Stemlow said that the lack of standards means that there’s not as much time to prepare as they would like, but he’s confident they’ll be ready.

“We’ve got two years of work to do and two or three months to do it,” he said. “But luckily we got a head start long before Initiative 502 was conceived.”

To go inside the marijuana testing lab with TVW, watching this Wednesday’s edition of “The Impact.” (UPDATE: The segment is now available to watch online here.)

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Categories: Marijuana