West Michigan Safety Compliance Facility Rolls with the Punches Through the State's Slow-Going Licensing Process

Michigan Cannabis Testing Facility

Written by: Kevin Currier, Word Currier

You have a headache. Holding your head, you walk to get a bottle of aspirin. Open the bottle, take two, wait for the effects to kick in. 

Throughout this process, not once did you worry if you dosed the aspirin right. You didn’t think about the possible adverse side effects. Or, if the strength may be different than the last time you took them. Never once do you think about the consistency, the health risks, the dosage of the medication. Why?

Because, you assume that the medication has been put through the highest standards of testing before it ever gets inside that childproof bottle. Why would medical marijuana be any different?

When Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008, the product wasn't required to be tested for contaminants or potency until new laws signed by Gov. Rick Snyder enacted the MMFLA last December. In that span of almost 10 years, most caregivers would grow and sell medicinal marijuana for their patients without third party testing or safety verification.

But, long before the state required the testing of the product, Linda Palmatier, owner of Spott Labs in Kalamazoo, made it her priority to ensure only the highest quality medical marijuana made it to its patients. "Some caregivers wanted to test for basic things like potency and residual solvents," Linda says. "But, we were sometimes finding other things like mildew and bugs. There were no legal repercussions for this. I would give results, and they could do what they wanted with them.” Usually leading to the caregiver giving the product to their patient regardless of the results. “It’s a good thing the state is getting involved,” she remarks about the new state regulations.

Linda, like many people in the cannabis business, never imagined herself getting into the industry—let alone owning and operating a marijuana testing lab. After 37 years of management in a sheet metal company under her belt, Linda thought she’d be happy as a retiree. She was wrong. “My son was very pro-cannabis and would send me articles about the medical benefits of it,” Linda said. “After I educated myself on its possibilities, I was very interested in marijuana, and it's possibilities." She originally wanted to open a dispensary in Kalamazoo. Unfortunately, the city was only receptive to testing, not dispensing medical marijuana. "Usually, no one is against a laboratory. So, I decided to open a testing lab and hirer the best scientists to run it.”

Her idea paid off. The Spott Laboratory is currently the only laboratory operating in Southwest Michigan. The emergency rules allow it to stay open while applications for state licenses are being slowly approved. “We have the best equipment and the best technicians we can get. IOS accredited with all testing, and most employees have a masters and Ph.D.," Linda says.

But, her corner on the testing market could become a problem. As the state will require all marijuana to be tested and approved before it is sold, The Spott could easily become inundated with testing orders, slowing down the process of getting the marijuana to its patients. “Once people find out how expensive and complicated it can be to open a lab, they usually turn to growing or selling instead," Linda says. Which, is a shame as testing is a vital part to the safety and consistency of medical marijuana. At the moment there are less than 10 testing labs in the pipeline for applications. Far more will be needed to keep the pace of demand as Michigan has the second largest number of medical card holders in the country.

"I had no idea myself how important testing was. Outdoor growers were getting mold, indoor growers were getting spider mites," says Linda. As there is still a lingering taboo of marijuana and it’s “stoner culture,” the MMFLA laws hope to combat those preconceived notions with legitimate testing and heavy regulations along every step of the growing and selling process.

Testing is an essential part of the medical marijuana program. It helps users and provisioning centers know the chemical compounds in each product, as hundreds of distinct cannabinoids are useful for treating different ailments. But, like that aspirin you reach for when a headache starts, “consistency is going to be vital when it comes to medicinal marijuana,” says Linda. And, the only way to do this is through world-class testing.

One of the major issues Linda and her team have come across is not the handling of the product, the customers, or even the testing process itself. As the MMFLA laws are not yet a year old, changes and modifications are a constant battle. “It’s a moving target on trying to figure out what the state wants,” says Linda. As LARA (the states licensing and regulation board) is more concerned with governmental regulations, they can be unaware of the many aspects needed for testing such a new and growing field. “Consistency and purity are the final outcomes everyone is looking for," she says.

As Linda and her team have a great deal of knowledge about the molecular makeup of cannabis and what is required for a good product, LARA will frequently reach out to her about wording, protocol, and what is necessary to ensure the best testing practices. “It shows they really are researching and trying to make the best decisions for the safety of the patients. Which,” she says “is the most important thing to keep in mind.”

The current laws state that testing facilities will be required to test for such things as THC THC-A, CBD, CBD-A, residual oils, pesticides, heavy metals, water activity, moisture content, microbials, 6 different micro tests, among others. But, these current regulations are ever evolving. “It can be very frustrating to keep up with all of the changes. But, it’s all a learning process. It's all for the best in the end," Linda says. Michigan is currently looking at other states and local sources to determine what best fits Michigan’s cannabis model.

It might be several more months until Michigan has concrete testing procedures in place. But, as Linda and her team at The Spott Laboratory have been testing at the highest standards long before it was required by the state, they will be ready for however the laws change. "Something," Linda says about being adaptable, "everyone in the industry should be."  

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