- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - There’s an unmistakable, hops-like aroma of marijuana at the Analytical 360 laboratory in downtown Yakima.

A technician in one room listens to reggae music while poking marijuana buds with tweezers; meanwhile a worker in another lab room studies spores in petri dishes to the sound of a Grateful Dead concert recorded in Oakland in 1987.

But the aroma and laid-back sound belie the cutting-edge work going on at a laboratory that prides itself as one of the strictest and most thorough in the state for testing marijuana products for the state’s new recreational market. While producers, processors and retailers face their own challenges in developing a sustainable business model, labs such as the one in Yakima are at the forefront of a new quality control industry that’s intended to inform consumers and protect them from harmful chemicals and microbes in the product.

“The worst thing that could happen is someone gets sick from using this,” lab technician Randall Oliver said.

There are 12 labs licensed to test recreational marijuana in the state. Analytical 360’s lab is one of just four east of the Cascades.

The lab has grown from two employees when it opened in June to seven, who process more than 1,300 samples a month from about 100 clients. The company also has a lab in Seattle that tests medical marijuana products and has hundreds more clients there, Ed Stremlow, Analytical 360’s chief operating officer, said.

In addition to testing marijuana, they also test hops, which are a not-so-distant relative of the marijuana plant. The downtown Yakima lab is located in a building that for years was home to the John I. Haas hops company, and uses the same lab facilities that company used to test the quality of its hops.

Nearly 10 percent of all marijuana flowers tested for microbes such as bacteria and fungi fail their lab tests, according to data from the state Liquor Control Board. If a sample fails, it’s tested again. If the retested sample fails again, the entire 5-pound lot it comes from cannot be sold in stores.

All testing samples are destroyed after the tests; none of the samples are returned.

Analytical 360’s Yakima lab gives failing marks for microbes in about 18 percent of the samples it receives, meaning the batch they came from can’t be sold, Stremlow said. He attributes that to having some of the strictest standards in the state.

“I’ve heard one lab say they’ve had no failures on the recreational market, which I find impossible,” Stremlow said. “We want everybody to pass because they’re not happy with us when they don’t, but like most labs, we want to give true and accurate results.”

If they don’t, the lab itself could reap the liability. Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith said the agency is planning to test some of the product from stores and see if further testing compares to lab results for the batch.

There are any number of potential contaminants the labs look for, from molds and bacteria to foreign substances such as ethanol and butane, which are used in making hash oil, and wax used for vaporizers that can cause health problems if consumed. Some of Analytical 360’s clients got their start in the black market, where they grew for years. Those customers, despite producing a highly potent product, weren’t expecting potential contamination.

“It’s been kind of a rude awakening for some people,” Analytical 360 lab director Laura Taubner said.

Some of the state’s 12 labs have also reported concentrations of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, above and beyond any percentages ever recorded previously. The average THC level is nearly 16 percent according to tests done at state labs, Smith said, but some have reported percentages in the high 30s.

“It’s something we’ll be following up with,” Smith said. He added only about 2.45 percent of marijuana samples tested higher than 28 percent THC.

It’s not powerful highs that are of concern, but whether those results are actually inaccurate and allowed to be used to promote the product. Oliver said any samples that test greater than 30 percent or less than 5 percent THC are put aside for additional testing.

“It makes us all look bad if someone accepts a result like that without retesting it,” Oliver said.


Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, https://www.yakimaherald.com

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