- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

WILLINGTON, Conn. (AP) - Nicole Steinhilber recently graduated from the University of Hartford with a degree in chemistry and didn’t have to look far to find a job.

Steinhilber is working as a lab technician in a converted former mill building here testing three strains of medical marijuana that went on sale last week at six state dispensaries.

The first medical marijuana samples will likely arrive soon- once a high-level security system is installed.

The lab, known as “theCRO,” which stands for Cannabis Research Organization, is a division of Releaf Therapeutics and will perform testing on medical marijuana to ensure patients’ safety and provide them with the best quality products, CEO James Bento said.

The company recently received its state permit and is scheduled to begin testing small amounts of marijuana early next month.

It is the only approved testing facility in the state.

According to company literature, theCRO is dedicated to managing pain and providing relief to people who suffer from particular diseases and ailments, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, seizure disorders, muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, and nausea from cancer therapy.

The company will gather small amounts - each sample will be measured in milligrams - of the medical marijuana that is being grown at the state’s four grow sites.

Samples will be taken from a variety of areas, as concentrations of psychoactive compounds are generally in higher concentration at the top of the plant and could skew testing results, according to Steinhilber, director of quality assurance.

The equipment will test for five different components of the marijuana: the chemical compounds known as cannabinoid, or CBD, and THC.

All the samples that are collected will be homogenized in a liquid solution, making the marijuana not fit for smoking, Steinhilber said. Each sample will be “thousands of a milligram,” so at any one time the company will have no more than several grams of marijuana in its possession. All of the samples that are awaiting testing will be stored in a safe.

In the laboratory, the machine will test for fungus, pesticides, and various traces of metals that users shouldn’t be ingesting, Steinhilber said. There are no testing standards, however.

Bento said he had applied for a dispensary for Litchfield County last fall but received a denial notice in January.

Dispensaries are in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor, and Uncasville.

The Willington lab is “working closely” with Neo-Advent Technologies, a pharmaceutical firm in Littleton, Massachusetts and Basis Analytical Laboratories in Denver, Colorado, “to provide Connecticut with the latest technologies and capabilities,” Bento said.

In the future, the company may shift from strictly testing to product development, such as creating medical marijuana infused patches tablets, and other ancillary parts of the industry.

“Going forward we would like to develop a drug formulation that would provide different ways for people to consume marijuana,” said Wendy Steinhilber, chief operations officer for theCRO.

She emphasized that it is “much more beneficial” to consume marijuana by ingestion rather than smoking.

“A person with lung cancer cannot be expected to smoke, so finding other means of consumption is very important, Wendy Steinhilber said.

Nelson Landrau, president and CEO of Neo-Advent Technologies, said his company is looking to develop a controlled release tablet containing THC.

“We are pleased to work with this new lab and provide our expertise and going forward we would like to establish the same kind of testing lab in Massachusetts,” Landrau said. “This will take a while though, because the state is closed and we cannot get anything processed with them at the moment.”

Nicole Steinhilber said she wasn’t expecting to enter the medical marijuana industry when she finished college.

“I had no idea,” she said. “I was just really good at math and science in school, so that’s why I chose chemistry. When I graduated, I realized there is going to be a lot of openings for people like me who can be in the labs testing. That’s going to be a huge piece of this industry.”

She says the jobs in industry will have the potential to be “high paying” as demand increases.

As of Sept. 9, there were 2,326 residents in the state who are approved to have medical marijuana. The majority, 706, are in New Haven County. Locally, Tolland County has 65 residents certified to receive medical marijuana.

Currently, the state is allowing only three strains of marijuana to be sold. They are known as 14001, 14002, and 14003. Where the seeds came from to grow the plants is a mystery, Nicole Steinhilber said, as its illegal to import them over state lines or from another country. “They say that over the next few months there will be a larger selection of strains,” she said.

With her new lab-coat-wearing position, Nicole Steinhilber says she expects the perception of medical marijuana to change.

“Now there are more studies being done and people really focusing on the benefits of it and really looking into it,” Steinhilber said. “The benefits are amazing. So many people can be helped from alternative medicine.”

Samples will be taken from a variety of areas, as concentrations of psychoactive compounds are generally in higher concentration at the top of the plant and could skew testing results, according to Steinhilber, director of quality assurance.

The equipment will test for five different components of the marijuana: the chemical compounds known as cannabinoid, or CBD, and THC.

The machine uses liquid chromatography and analyzes the percentage of the various compounds that are in the marijuana, Steinhilber said.

Someone with epilepsy will want a strain with a high count of the psychoactive property CBD, she said.

All the samples that are collected will be homogenized in a liquid solution, making the marijuana not fit for smoking, Steinhilber said. Each sample will be “thousandths of a milligram,” so at any one time the company will have no more than several grams of marijuana in its possession. All of the samples that are awaiting testing will be stored in a safe.

In the laboratory, the machine will test for fungus, pesticides, and various traces of metals that users shouldn’t be ingesting, Steinhilber said. There are no testing standards, however.

Bento said he had applied for a dispensary for Litchfield County last fall but received a denial notice in January.

“There were 27 applications put in for dispensaries and only six were granted,” he said. “We received 68 percent of the votes required to acquire the dispensary and all because of one town manager, we were denied. Medical marijuana does not kill anyone, so why deny us the permit for the dispensary?

“I have a friend who manages a Rite Aid pharmacy,” Bento continued, “and he says his store has so many deadly drugs . but there are no facts that show medical marijuana killing anyone.”

Dispensaries are in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor, and Uncasville.

The Willington lab is “working closely” with Neo-Advent Technologies, a pharmaceutical firm in Littleton, Massachusetts, and Basis Analytical Laboratories in Denver, Colorado, “to provide Connecticut with the latest technologies and capabilities,” Bento said.

In the future, the company may shift from strictly testing to product development, such as creating medical marijuana infused patches tablets, and other ancillary parts of the industry.

“Going forward we would like to develop a drug formulation that would provide different ways for people to consume marijuana,” said Wendy Steinhilber, chief operations officer for theCRO.

She emphasized that it is “much more beneficial” to consume marijuana by ingestion rather than smoking.

“A person with lung cancer cannot be expected to smoke, so finding other means of consumption is very important, Wendy Steinhilber said. “It’s the same as taking other forms of medicines, liquid, tablets, etc.”

Nelson Landrau, president and CEO of Neo-Advent Technologies, said his company is looking to develop a controlled release tablet containing THC.

Nicole Steinhilber said she wasn’t expecting to enter the medical marijuana industry when she finished college.

“I had no idea,” she said. “I was just really good at math and science in school, so that’s why I chose chemistry. When I graduated, I realized there is going to be a lot of openings for people like me who can be in the labs testing. That’s going to be a huge piece of this industry.”

She says the jobs in industry will have the potential to be “high paying” as demand increases.

As of Sept. 9, there were 2,326 residents in the state who are approved to have medical marijuana. The majority, 706, are in New Haven County. Locally, Tolland County has 65 residents certified to receive medical marijuana.

Currently, the state is allowing only three strains of marijuana to be sold. They are known as 14001, 14002, and 14003. Where the seeds came from to grow the plants is a mystery, Nicole Steinhilber said, as it’s illegal to import them over state lines or from another country. “They say that over the next few months there will be a larger selection of strains,” she said.

With her new lab-coat-wearing position, Nicole Steinhilber says she expects the perception of medical marijuana to change.

“Now there are more studies being done and people really focusing on the benefits of it and really looking into it,” Steinhilber said. “The benefits are amazing. So many people can be helped from alternative medicine.”

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