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Budding cottage industry: Labs testing legalized marijuana

A new cottage industry has emerged to serve the budding legalized marijuana market.

Cannabis testing laboratories – which examine pot samples for potency and purity -- have sprouted in states across the nation.

It was just a matter of time.  This past year, Colorado and Washington State recently legalized marijuana for recreational use, and an additional 20 states and the District of Columbia allow its use for medicinal purposes.

According to Chemical and Engineering News, growth in the legal market has led to small labs sprouting up in Denver, Seattle, Michigan and Massachusetts.

"We're kind of like a quality-control lab for medical marijuana products," says Randall Oliver, a chief scientist at Analytical 360, a marijuana testing lab in Seattle that started serving Washington's medical marijuana community about two years ago. The lab tests for potency by using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to quantify the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and several other cannabinoids and terpenoids. It looks for these compounds in dried marijuana plants, which will be smoked, and other products, such as food and personal care products that have been infused with cannabis extracts.

Potency is a prime concern for medical marijuana patients. C&E News reports that CannLabs, an analysis lab in Denver, tested some for one patient who thought she was getting a 300 mg dose of THC, one of the active ingredients in cannabis. In fact, she was only receiving 16 mg.

Patients in the few states that allow them to grow their own usually don't have access to the necessary testing equipment. The labs also test for pesticides and biological contaminents.

Not much is required to get a laboratory up and running, according to Philly420 columnist Chris Goldstein.

"Just a basic knowledge of organic chemistry and a few pieces of equipment: a gas chromatograph among them," Goldstein said. "It doesn't require a special permit. So there are a bunch of fly-by-nights that have also sprung up. It's the wild west of science, an emerging field that occupies a very gray area under state law."