The Puyallup Tribe Is Running the Pot Lab of the Future

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I’ve bought weed on the illegal market longer than the legal market, so it’s a bit of a shock to see cannabis being tested at Medicine Creek Analytics: a mechanical arm picking up and dropping off little vials, a separate arm rhythmically stabbing test tubes with a long needle… I began to wonder what was in all that illegal weed I’d smoked over the years.
Thanks to Medicine Creek and the 17 other labs approved by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) to test the safety of the state’s legal weed, we can find out exactly what is in the weed sold at dispensaries across the state. And Medicine Creek, which is owned and operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, is especially good at determining what’s in our weed. It has equipment that can discern what chemicals are present at one-billionth per gram of pot.

The accuracy of some of the other state-certified labs has frequently come into question since the market was set up in 2014. A wide variety of voices—including a data scientist watching the industry, the regulators overseeing the labs, and even some of the labs themselves—have accused certain pot labs of inflating THC values and failing an unusually small amount of the quality assurance tests.

But Medicine Creek is probably the least likely to be conducting the shoddy science some labs have been accused of. That’s because the lab hasn’t just passed the state’s requirements for acquiring a pot lab license, it has also been accredited by the same set of international standards, called ISO 17025, that are required for any lab to do work for the federal government.

Medicine Creek is the only pot lab that has told the WSLCB it is ISO accredited, according to spokesman Brian Smith.

“That was one of our first goals, to get ISO accreditation,” said Daniel Duenas Jr., the tribe’s executive director of cannabis. He oversees the tribe’s retail store and cannabis lab, and said that the tribe hopes to combine its work on cannabis with their brand-new cancer care clinic, which shares a building with Medicine Creek Analytics.

The federal government has largely allowed tribes to work in the legal weed business if they are located in states that have legalized cannabis and form legal agreements with those states. The Puyallup Tribe has a special legal agreement to operate a retail store and testing lab, and may in the future have a license to produce their own pot.

The WSLCB is no stranger to ISO accreditation—it has incorporated many of the independent certification’s requirements into its own rules, but it has yet to require a full ISO 17025 accreditation. That may change—two weeks after we wrote about the benefits of requiring labs to meet the independent accreditation, a bill was introduced into the state legislature that would do just that.

The bill—sponsored by Representatives David Sawyer (a Democrat from Lakewood) and Cary Condotta (a Republican from Wenatchee)—would require all labs certified by the state to also hold an ISO 17025 accreditation. Sawyer said the requirement would help stop labs from manipulating results to help businesses and make sure that false positive tests aren’t unfairly hurting some producers.

“We have people who are manipulating and gaming the system, and they are hurting the honest labs,” Sawyer said.

Dan Purkey, the general manager of Artizen Cannabis, testified in support of the bill during a house committee hearing, saying that the ISO certification “tells us that there is a degree of attention to detail and quality that is a level above labs that don’t have that.”

“The proposed change drives a degree of integrity into the testing process that some say is lacking today,” Purkey said. Artizen is the state’s third largest producer with more than $14.6 million in cannabis sold since the state legalized it, according to 502data.com.

James Paribello, a legislative liaison for the WSLCB, testified at the same committee hearing that “it has been the WSLCB’s intent to require this accreditation at a later date.”

Requiring the higher accreditation would likely increase the cost of cannabis in the state. Labs would have to spend more money paying for the licensing and, depending on the lab, invest more money in equipment and laboratory personnel. Those costs would increase the price that producers pay for their tests, and all of that would likely be passed on to the final per gram price paid by the consumer.

Is a better guarantee of safe pot worth spending more money? I think so, and so does Sawyer. “I think having high standards, even if it may cost more money, is worth it,” Sawyer said. “I think consumers deserve to know that the product they are getting is not full of pesticides and poison.”

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