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Just Like Food, Marijuana To Be Tested For Contaminants

Oct 28, 2014

Jessica Olson, Ashley Hansen and Hilary Glass make up the science team at GreenHill Laboratories in Carbondale. They plan to test thousands of marijuana samples a day when they open.
Credit Marci Krivonen

A laboratory that tests retail marijuana is opening in Carbondale. It’s one of just two such Colorado labs west of the Continental Divide. The scientists who run GreenHill Laboratories say they will be testing for potency and they’ll be one of the first to test for contaminants. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Inside Greenhill Laboratories in Carbondale, Lab Owner Hilary Glass motions toward her equipment.

Glass: "These are my incubators. I need about eight more."

Reporter: "So, you need about eight more because you’re expecting a lot of demand?"

Glass: "Yes.”

The team at GreenHill is excited to be in a pioneering industry where their research could reveal new information about marijuana.
Credit Marci Krivonen

Glass grew up in Wisconsin, helping her mother in a microbiology lab that tests milk for the dairy industry. Once she heard Colorado legalized marijuana, she figured the same kinds of checks and balances for food would be applied to pot.

"I just basically took her business model and applied it here."

Greenhill Labs is licensed but needs a certification from the State Department of Health to test marijuana for contaminants. The State already requires testing for potency. Soon tests for harmful microbials such as E. Coli and salmonella will be mandatory. Jessica Olson is a chemist at GreenHill.

"It’s basically a matter of protection of human health and welfare to ensure that any product just like the product you buy in the grocery store, is screened and monitored for pathogens that can cause harm to human health," says Olson.

Natriece Bryant is a communications specialist for the State of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. She says the State looked to existing industries, like food, to come up with some of the rules around testing.

"We took rules from a variety of industries but because this is such a unique program and it’s new, we don’t have anything to follow."

She says right now just four labs - all in the Denver area - are licensed and certified. Fifteen more are awaiting certification. Besides Greenhill, the only other laboratory outside of the Front Range is in Durango.

"I think that’s going to be a growth part of the industry," says Meg Collins.

She runs the Cannabis Business Alliance, which acts as a chamber of commerce for the marijuana industry.

While the State refines its regulations, she says many marijuana businesses are already doing in-house testing to ensure their products are safe. As more labs get certified, she sees this part of the industry flourishing.

"It’s like any new industry, for the entrepreneurs, of which this industry has a lot, you’re only limited by your imagination," Collins says.

Back in Carbondale, GreenHill laboratory owner Hilary Glass says once they’re certified, she expects to test 3000 samples a day for contaminants.

"I might get carpal tunnel! It is a lot, but the nice thing is you don’t need a lot of space. Your work flow in this small space allows you do high volume. I think we’ll probably start at 6am and be done at 10 at night."

She’s already getting inquiries from marijuana businesses that want to sign an advance contract for testing. Some of the samples could come from as far away as Denver.

For Chemist Jessica Olson, researching marijuana is an exciting new frontier.

"It’s going to be an exciting few years at the forefront because we’re going to be the first ones to lay that ground work and hopefully as time passes, more scientists will want to study marijuana."

The scientists here are hoping to cash in on Colorado’s “green rush” and develop science for an industry that could eventually sprout in other states.