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Is Cutting-Edge Marijuana Lab the Future of Legitimate Pot?

If pot is truly medicine, shouldn't it be standardized? A lab has big plans to test the potency of Cali cannabis sold in dispensaries.
 
 
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At downtown Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the hairy green buds have numbers. The new nomenclature beckons viewers from within seven gleaming glass display cases. Antiseptic white placards boast authoritative black digits. Each stands erect next to a Petri dish of high-octane "White Rhino" or "Afgooey Super Melt." They read: 7 percent, 11 percent, 18 percent, or 21 percent. Even 80 percent.

"80 percent THC?" asks a potential customer. He's referring to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

"That's a concentrate," reminds Stephen DeAngelo, proud owner of the three-year-old collective. DeAngelo's facility boasts 20,000 members and grossed more than $10 million last year. Even amid the recession, lines are a constant phenomenon and DeAngelo is looking to double his space. Hundreds of new customers sign up monthly, attracted partly by the immaculate facility: its savvy, well-paid "budtenders" and $40, eighth-ounce pot dosages. But part of the appeal is the new placards — the result of a disruptive new service by Harborside's partners at the Analytical Laboratory Project.

"For the first time in the 3,000-year history of human cannabis consumption, consumers will be provided a scientific assessment of the safety and potency of products prior to ingesting them," DeAngelo announced in December.

In the months since, DeAngelo's patrons have enjoyed mankind's most detailed product information thanks to the country's first commercial marijuana lab. Arrest and jail remain a constant worry for him and the lab's two owners. But they believe that if pot is truly medicine, it needs quality assurance and dosage information. The Analytical Laboratory Project wants to be the source of that information. The lab's ultimate goal is to provide testing for half of the 300 dispensaries in California.

Behind DeAngelo, a cross section of the East Bay shuffles in and out of the pot club's well-lit main floor. They buy briskly and nonchalantly, as though it's a bank or a pharmacy. Powerful, normative forces have begun to transform the $65 billion domestic black market in ganja. DeAngelo and his partners want to be the custodians of that transformation.

Indeed, positive hits for pathogenic mold are already changing grower operations. "You smoke ten random samples of cannabis and you've most likely smoked aspergillus [mold]," said Dave, one of the lab's two founders. "It's in there, often at unacceptable levels. Now it's up to the industry to respond. We also are not in a position where we want to make enemies and piss people off. We want to see it happen in the best way for the movement and the industry to kind of just naturally evolve."

While the distributed nature of California's cannabis supply network obviously benefits mom-and-pop growers, it doesn't encourage quality assurance. Consequently, Dave and his peers believe that some pot consumers are in danger.

"It's expensive to test every single thing that comes through the door — that's the price you pay with a decentralized supply system," Dave said. "But that's what you've got. You've got five pounds coming from here and two from there and one individual. I mean, a dog walks in the grow room, and wags its tail — anything can be coming off that dog's tail. It's gross. Fertilizers with E. coli. Compost teas that they don't make right, anaerobic tea that has elevated levels of E. coli and salmonella. It has to come. There's no way that this is sustainable. All it takes is one story of immune-compromised people dying from aspergillus infection. The myth that cannabis hasn't killed a single person in 3,000 years is allowed to go on. Well, it's not cannabis that kills people, it's all the shit that's in it."

 
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