August 17, 2021

Growing Forward: Cannabis testing

In two weeks, the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, by law, must start accepting applications for non-medical cannabis cultivation licenses. But an often overlooked aspect of the cannabis industry is testing. 

The state Department of Health has long had a list of testing requirements for medical cannabis, but now that nearly all aspects of cannabis is overseen by a new department, lab operators like Barry Dungan of Rio Grande Analytics are anxiously waiting for new testing standards.

Dungan began his career in cannabis testing after a stint as a researcher at New Mexico State University. He and his partners started Rio Grande Analytics in Las Cruces, but earlier this year, the company moved to Albuquerque to be more centrally located. 

Dungan told Growing Forward, the collaborative cannabis podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, that he’s mostly still operating under the DOH rules, but that he needs advance notification of rule changes from RLD. 

“The stuff that we need to buy are things that are in state labs and crime labs and forensic labs,” Dungan said. “This isn’t, go to the used car lot and just get one. These are very, very sophisticated pieces of equipment, and I just need as much time as possible to get them in place.” 

DOH tried to implement more rigid standards for testing, but those new rules were thrown out by a state district court judge after they were challenged by a group of medical cannabis producers. For now, Rio Grande Analytics is testing cannabis based on the DOH standards put in place years ago. But Dungan said if the new standards from RLD require more rigorous testing he’ll need time to organize financing. 

“For the pesticides and heavy metals, we’re looking at an $800,000 investment, and I can’t go to Wells Fargo and get a loan for that because of the nature of the business,”Dungan said. “Also, these things are made overseas, they have to be shipped here.”

Rio Grande Analytics is only one of two state approved labs in the state, but Dungan said the right number of labs will depend on how many cultivator licenses the state issues. 

And while the state is in the last stages of finalizing rules for producers, regulators still need to construct rules for other parts of the industry like couriers and labs. And Dungan said operating a testing lab is a lot more complicated than many think.  

“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have a lab, and it’s so easy,’ and there’s a lot of moving parts.”

You can listen to the entire episode below.