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A newly regulated consumer product is coming on the market soon in Washington and testing is required to make sure it doesn't make us sick, or worse.
In Wallingford, up the street from a pizza parlor and a dance studio, next door to a chiropractor is a tiny office with a plain-looking front door simply labeled: Analytical 360. For two years, the small lab has been testing marijuana for the medical market.
"We do safety testing, we also provide potency analysis so that people know what they're getting when they're buying medical marijuana at the dispensary," said Randy Oliver, chief scientist at Analytical 360.
Oliver and his colleagues are in the process of earning state certification to test samples of marijuana for the potentially much larger recreational market.
"It's actually really good for everybody because it's going to increase the consistency and the validity of testing marijuana."
State law requires producers and processors of recreational marijuana and cannabis-related derivatives to get their products tested, at their own expense.
Analytical 360 uses a method of testing known as high performance, liquid chromatography. The state is requiring a variety of quality assurance tests, including one to determine the strength of the product.
"We test for potency for obvious reasons, so that people know the level of the psychoactive component, so that they're not overwhelmed by it," explained Oliver. They test for bacteria, fungus, pesticides and residual solvents. "Butane, for example, ethanol, different solvents people are using to extract. We make sure those are below a certain threshold."
Around the Pacific Northwest, the most common contaminant is fungus, due to moisture.
"It ruins the taste, it's going to ruin your ability to turn the product over and it also could be potentially dangerous, of course," Oliver said.
Speaking of taste, Oliver was asked if they smoke marijuana as part of the testing process.
"Oh, no. All of our samples that come in, they're used up and go out in our waste stream so we don't get to do that kind of testing."
The testing process will cost a producer about $150 for a five-pound lot but Oliver predicted that cost will add just pennies to the retail price of marijuana.
The recreational marijuana market could be a surprise bonanza for this tiny business on Stone Way North.
"We didn't anticipate this at all," said Oliver. "I think in reality, none of us had an idea [that voters would approve the legalization of recreational marijuana]. We were just providing a service for the medical marijuana community so that patients could get a reliable dose, so we're excited about it."
Analytical 360 did about 40 tests per day in November and hopes to make that 50-60 tests daily next year, amounting to perhaps half of the marijuana testing business in Washington.
Beyond state-certified testing is another opportunity for Analytical 360, helping producers and processors of marijuana refine their products to optimize the grow operations and control potency.
The state is still refining rules and evaluating license applications. Best guess is that retail sales of recreational marijuana will begin in the spring of 2014.
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