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Chemist: Marijuana testing labs overlooked

REGION — Marijuana testing is a slow moving process for much of San Diego County. 

During last week’s Vista City Council meeting, Joseph Evans, an analytical chemist and chief technical officer of Trufoila (formerly Solana Lab Solutions), spoke in support of allowing testing labs as part of the city’s ordinance regulation medicinal marijuana operations.

Evans, who previous worked in Denver for Steep Hill Halent and prior with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, said not only the region, but the state lacks the number of testing facilities to ensure product quality and safety.

It’s an area not many politicians or civic leaders are considering for several reasons, he said.

“Usually, it’s just a lack of understanding,” Evans said. “When they really do find out, hey, this is set up just like this (non-marijuana) testing lab. Carlsbad has a lot laboratory analyses going on, for example, just not with marijuana. The testing lab doesn’t even work with the public. The testing lab has to send people out to the grow or extraction facility to get the sample. They don’t really have anyone coming into the facility.”

Currently, there are just four marijuana testing labs in San Diego County, all within the city of San Diego, according to state records provided by Alex Traverso of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control.

Statewide, there are 52 and state law mandates testing of legal product.

Evans said there should be between 200 to 300 labs statewide.

Carlsbad, Escondido and San Marcos do not allow marijuana testing labs, while Oceanside does, but has not received any applications, according to its website.

Carlsbad, though, has an exemption for industrial hemp, which is not considered in the definition of cannabis, according to Deputy City Attorney Marissa Kawecki.

Evans said the lack of labs is a concern and that more of them can help bridge the gap between the white and black markets.

In addition, state lawmakers are attempting to cut taxes on marijuana to beef up the legal market, according to a recent report from the Los Angeles Times.

And while lower taxes could help, Evans spoke at last week’s Vista City Council meeting to push the city into accepting testing labs.

The City Council deferred for at least six months so the city could address its applicants for medicinal marijuana dispensaries.

He said the low quantity of the drug labs test does not relate to crime or possible break-ins, a concern for many politicians regarding allowing medicinal or recreational marijuana.

“We are testing a sample, not pounds of marijuana,” Evans explained. “Every batch of oil you have to test. There are two categories: potency … and safety, which people recognize as pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents. These are things that have to be tested in every batch as well.”

Regardless, since Evans, a Carlsbad resident, has not found a suitable location in San Diego County, he will open a lab in Irvine, which he said has a growing population of labs. He looked at a location in Sorrento Valley, but the cost was too expensive.

“We invested in San Diego County and Orange County,” Evans said. “I found space in Irvine and of all those places I looked at, Irvine turned out to be the best option.”

Part of the challenge with finding a location is twofold, Evans added. First, finding a landlord willing to allow marijuana testing, which is confirmed by the state. Second is if a city will allow the lab.

Yet another challenge, Evans said, is if the landlord has a loan through a federally insured bank.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and banks have not begun accepting transactions from marijuana-related businesses as those funds may be seized.

Evans said his “average size” lab, consisting of 10 to 12 employees, plus the state license, city permit and any renovations, will run “a couple” million dollars. The analytical instruments alone cost about $1 million.

Additionally, the state-licensing fee is based on first-year revenue projections and range between $3,000 and $112,000.

“You have to have all these set-up procedures, which I estimate to take six months,” Evans added. “All that, and you’re paying people for a certain time because you’re not taking in revenue.”

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