Juneau's first marijuana testing lab applies for permit, license

JUNEAU — When drafting their regulations for the growth and sale of marijuana, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board and the Juneau Assembly split the budding industry into four sectors: cultivation, product manufacturing, testing and retail.

To date, the city’s Planning Commission has heard and approved conditional use permits for cultivation, manufacturing and retail businesses. Now, the last piece of the marijuana supply chain is about to fall into place.

Southeast Alaska Laboratories LLC, Juneau’s first marijuana testing business based in Lemon Creek, has applied for its city conditional use permit and its state marijuana establishment license, and another business is following close behind. Glacier Analytics, a testing lab located in the Mendenhall Valley, should have its state license application and city permitting paperwork turned in by early next week, according to the business’ co-founder Mitch Knottingham.

Loren Jones, a member of the Juneau Assembly and the Marijuana Control Board, said that these testing facility applications are a “big deal” for other marijuana businesses in town because without local testing, cultivators would be put in “limbo.”

Jones, not speaking on behalf of the Marijuana Control Board, said that federal law currently prohibits the transport of marijuana using boats, planes or the U.S. Postal Service. This leaves transport via car the only real legal option for communities without licensed labs to get their products tested. Without access to the road system, however, this puts communities like Juneau in a bind.

“If you’re in Mat-Su, you can drive your samples to Anchorage for testing,” Jones explained. “For communities in Southeast Alaska, rural Alaska, the Aluetian chain — all of those — it’s going to be problematic.”

Now that Juneau has two prospective testing facilities preparing for business, growers and manufacturers here no longer have to worry about how they are going to transport their products to be tested. Jessica Dreibelbis, the CEO and manager of Southeast Alaska Laboratories, said this fact is not lost on most marijuana business owners in town.

“When I put in my application, word got around pretty quick, and cultivators have been very appreciative,” she told the Empire in a phone interview Thursday. “They know without a lab here, it’s going to be very difficult for them to sell their product legally.”

James Barrett — who co-founded and co-owns Rainforest Farms LLC with his brother, Giono — said that he was never particularly worried about having to ship his product for testing. He pointed out that in Washington and Oregon, both states in which recreational marijuana is legal, the feds have allowed for intrastate shipping of products.

Jones observed this, too, and added that if other Alaska communities have trained their drug dogs like Juneau has (not to detect marijuana), then shipping might not be impossible to get away with — even if it is still federally illegal.

“It’s not like we’re going to send a five-pound package of marijuana to the tester,” Jones said. “We’re talking about one-gram, two-gram samples.”

But he also noted that shipping adds extra risk to business owners, who are already venturing into uncharted waters, so to speak. For Barrett, though, having a local lab is more exciting from a product development standpoint than anything.

“If we have a lab we are close to here, we could have the lab analyze our products closely and help us develop them,” he said. With more direct access to labs, and without having to deal with the hassle of shipping, Barrett said Rainforest Farms would go beyond the regulatory mandatory testing to work on fine-tuning the taste and effects of its edible products.

The Barretts and other cultivators are not the only people happy about Juneau’s two testing facilities. Both lab owners said they are excited to get their businesses off the ground.

Knottingham is going into business with his wife, Rochele. He said they have wanted to get into the commercial marijuana industry for a while now, and testing seemed like a good fit, given that Rochele has a background in water-quality testing.

“With Rochele’s background and the lack of labs in Southeast, it made way more sense for us and for the entire community for us to focus on a laboratory,” Mitch Knottingham said.

Dreibelbis’ conditional use permit hearing is scheduled for the July 26 Planning Commission meeting, and Jones said Dreibelbis’ state license will likely be heard at the Marijuana Control Board’s September meeting. Dates won’t be set for Knottingham’s hearing until his permit and license paperwork has been finalized and submitted.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or at [email protected].

06/24/2016 - 12:34pm