One of the biggest stumbling blocks with the local medical marijuana industry is the lack of quality control. Other than taking a dispensary worker's word for it, it's impossible to know just how powerful is that sample of OG Kush is -- or, for that matter, if it really is OG Kush. And as for the potency of those pot brownies behind the counter? Forgetaboutit.
That's where Full Spectrum Laboratories comes in. Located in a warehouse on Larimer Street in north Denver, the four-month-old operation looks like a high school chemistry lab, decked out in test tubes, pipettes and a chemical hood -- though it's all to analyze a substance that would never be allowed in science class: marijuana.
To test the potency of meds they're getting from vendors, dispensaries are delivering small samples (about 500 milligrams) of their products to Full Spectrum, which uses an advanced form of chemical analysis called high-performance liquid chromatography to determine their amount of THC and other cannabinoids, the psychoactive components of the plant. The service, which also tracks the moisture content of plant samples, costs $120 per test, though the fee is cut in half for dispensaries willing to shell out for 40 tests.
The cost is worth it, says Bob Winnicki, Full Spectrum's 35-year-old co-owner, who was a third-year med student until he came up with this idea several months ago. "Dispensaries are getting all this really cool stuff, but it turns out 80 percent of the edibles aren't being made properly, so it's not as active as it could be." The only other U.S. company Winnicki knows of that runs tests like this is the venerable Harborside Health Center in California, though Winnicki says they're using a slower and less detailed form of chemical analysis.
It's a good thing Full Spectrum's chemical processes are fast; the place has been swamped with upwards of 100 tests a week. The company's already considering new ventures, such as a certification process for marijuana growers, a "Larimer Street Scale" to help patients determine what potency they should use and a spin-off business focusing on high-caliber edibles and other marijuana formulations.
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"It's all stuff that should have been done 15 years ago," says Winnicki. Now they're making up for lost time.