The Sopris Sun

Green Hill blue over state’s marijuana delays

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The town of Carbondale has written a letter to the state of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) of the Department of Revenue, asking that the state do something about a bureaucratic roadblock that is preventing a local cannabis-testing laboratory from doing its work.

That business, Green Hill Laboratories LLC, has gotten all the certifications needed from the state and the town to conduct microbial testing of marijuana smokable and edible products, to detect contamination such as mold and mildew and prevent products from making consumers sick, according to Jessica Olson, lab manager.

But the state has yet to get to work enforcing laws requiring that that testing be conducted, as laid out in statutes legalizing cannabis for recreational consumption.

Colorado voters in 2000 legalized marijuana use for registered medical-marijuana patients, and in 2012 for recreational marijuana use by anyone over 21 years of age, though the testing requirements only apply to the recreational cannabis industry.

As part of the state’s bureaucratic framework for overseeing the cultivation, sale and consumption of smokable products as well as edibles, the state was supposed to require that all cannabis products be tested by certified, professional laboratories.

But those requirements, though they apparently have been completed and the relevant documents issued to testing labs, have yet to make it onto the state health department’s website, from which cannabis-related growers and sellers get their legal-compliance information.

A principal analyst at Green Hill Labs, Hilary Glass, in 2014 came to Carbondale from Wisconsin, where she and her family have been doing the same kind of testing for agricultural products, mainly in the dairy industry, for decades.

She has been joined by three other employees — Green Hill Director Dr. Donald Salter, and analysts M. Leuther and Jessica Olson — in the rather specialized business of using microbiological technology to test the flowers of the marijuana plants being grown and sold, as well as edible products, for contamination by microbial organisms.

The business also has the ability to test food products, other than cannabis-related consumables, but they are not allowed to do so by the state, Olson said.

Olson said there have been six such testing labs licensed by the state, and that the others use chemical testing of the products, which is different in nature from the microbiological methods of testing.

To set themselves up in business, according to Olson, they paid out a considerable investment, though she was not sure exactly how much.

“It was in the six figures, I can tell you that for sure,” Olson said, explaining that Glass would have the exact numbers but was not available for comment.

When Glass went in to Town Hall about a year ago for the required permits to do business here, according to an Aug. 25 letter from Mayor Stacey Bernot to the state, “The Carbondale Board of Trustees were particularly excited about the potential for the laboratory to create job opportunities for educated scientists within our small township, benefitting local residents as well as attracting educated professionals to relocate and become part of our community.”

But recently, when Glass went before the trustees to renew her local business license, she informed the trustees of the bind her business is in due to the state’s tardiness, and the trustees agreed to lend Green Hill Labs the town’s support.

In the letter, Bernot stated, “Job creation is a core component to the health of every local economy, and a certified laboratory is a highly desirable and positive development for the town. The MED’s extended delay on enforcing microbial testing requirements for retail marijuana and the resulting financial harm to Green Hill Laboratories poses a direct negative effect on our community.

“Not only is Green Hill Laboratories unable to expand and create jobs as they had planned to do, they are being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and face the loss of their business,” the mayor continued.

The trustees agreed to extend Green Hill’s permit, which would have expired this month, to December, and to not require the business to pay the $2,500 in renewal and application fees that normally apply.

In her letter, the mayor asked that the MED “commence with mandatory microbial testing program, as described (in the statutes) with all prudent urgency and expediency.”

In addition, the town asked that the MED allow testing labs to “accept non-marijuana samples for scientific analysis. As a small, rural community, Carbondale has a thriving farmer’s market and farm-to-table culinary culture. These segments of our community, which have nothing to do with marijuana, can improve their practices and the quality of their products” by making use of the testing lab’s resources.

“Bureaucratic convenience should not trump a small, rural community’s opportunity for access to laboratory services,” the mayor concluded.

Published in The Sopris Sun on September 3, 2015.