Colorado expands mandatory potency testing for retail marijuana products at newly-licensed labs

Four labs certified so far

DENVER - Makers of pot edibles and marijuana dispensaries are required to submit samples of their products to newly state-certified independent labs for potency testing before they can be sold.

Makers of marijuana-infused cookies, candies and other edibles were required to have their products independently tested for potency starting in May. June 1st was the deadline for marijuana flowers, which now must also be lab tested for potency before hitting store shelves.

"There seemed to be a real need for, testing labs to verify the safety and advocacy of these products," said lab owner Peter Perrone.

Perrone, and his wife Bugi, opened Gobi Analytical in May. Their lab, located in Wheat Ridge, is one of only four newly licensed independent labs given the green light by the state to test for potency. The three other independent labs certified to test for potency are CannLabs, CMT Laboratories and Steep Hill Halent, which are all based in Denver.

"Every kind of edible, drinkables, everything that has THC or cannabinoids in there, we can test for potency right now," explained lab owner Bugi Perrone.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) inspects and certifies these labs.

"They have to prove to us, they have the appropriate credentials, they have to have the appropriate operating procedures, and they have to have safety, quality in place so that there's consistency time and time again with regard to testing these products," explained CDPHE Executive Director Dr. Larry Wolk.

Dr. Wolk said the purpose of the new testing requirements is to give consumers more confidence that the product they're buying contains the amount of THC the label claims, and that someone else has independently tested it to make sure.

He also acknowledged the state's biggest challenge.

"Stores are already selling product, so we're playing catch up," said Dr. Wolk.

The new state mandated testing has brought a constant flow of new customers to Gobi Analytical. The couple said business has picked up significantly since the requirement for testing marijuana flowers began.

"The phone is ringing all day long, the interest in the services has skyrocketed," said Peter. "We've just received hundreds of samples so we're waking up early and working late."

Edible manufacturers and marijuana dispensaries are required to bring one serving size of each edible product in a batch and at least one milligram of the marijuana flower to the lab for testing. The marijuana products cannot be sold until the lab signs off on its potency.

7NEWS cameras were the first allowed inside the lab to see how the marijuana potency testing works. The process is fairly simple for marijuana flowers, but can be much more complicated for edible products.

"The biggest challenge for us in the beginning was with all the edibles [they] are in all kinds of different matrices, they're candies, they're cookies, and they're in gums and chocolates," said lab owner Bugi Perrone.

With so many different kinds of marijuana-infused products, Gobi Analytical has had to come up with different standard operating procedures for each one.

Inside the lab, they first prepare each sample, extract or break-up the marijuana product, and then each test tube is shaken in a machine for up to an hour. Next, the marijuana sample is filtered and added into a sequence of a high-tech testing machine. The machine then calculates the percentage of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, each sample contains. Each samples' potency is then recorded into the state's Marijuana Inventory Tracking System, known as MITS.

Right now, the only rule is that each marijuana product cannot contain more than 100 milligrams of THC, those that do fail the test can't be sold. The rule mainly applies to edible products since Perrone said marijuana buds typically contain only about 20 percent THC. He said most marijuana extracts or hash oils contain quite a bit more.

Perrone showed us one that contained about 61 percent THC.

For edible products, he said their potency can vary drastically.

"What we've found is say in a candy you might have 70 to 100 milligrams [of THC]," he further explained.

The state is still in the early phases of the testing program. It will require additional lab testing of all marijuana products for things like fungus, heavy metals and pesticides, starting in October. Gobi Analytical hopes to be fully certified in all required testing by the October deadline.

"Potency issues aside, some of this product may not be safe or good for someone's health," said Dr. Wolk.

The state has also postponed homogeneity testing, which would have checked for even distribution of THC throughout a marijuana-infused product.

Right now, the testing requirements are only for recreational marijuana products. Dr. Wolk believes it will also eventually be required for medical marijuana products, but any changes to how that is regulated will have to wait until lawmakers are back in session next year.

"If we want a responsible medical program and a responsible medical community, providers of medical marijuana products will want to have their doses verified to make sure that their products are safe," explained Dr. Wolk.

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