Why marijuana testing labs may be making their way to the suburbs
The marijuana growing operation for Chicago-based PharmaCann relies on two downstate labs to routinely test batches of product as mandated by the state.
LK Pure Labs in Sparta is about a four-hour drive from a PharmaCann cultivation center in Dwight. It takes more than an hour to get from the same grower to another testing lab in Monticello.
That logistical challenge underscores the need for more cannabis testing labs throughout the state, said Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs at PharmaCann.
Plans for testing facilities in Schaumburg and Carol Stream could help fill the gap in the suburbs.
Unitech Labs, which screens marijuana grown in California, is looking to enter the Illinois market with a testing lab in Schaumburg. The company's CEO told village officials this month that each lab requires a $4 million investment.
In Carol Stream, village planners have received a business registration application for a testing lab that would open in an office building at 690 E. North Ave.
IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group, a company that has conducted food safety tests for Chipotle restaurants, has an existing satellite in the same Carol Stream building.
IEH wants to start Pacific Botanical Laboratories to test marijuana as a tenant leasing space on the property, said Tom Farace, Carol Stream's planning and economic development manager. Pacific Botanical Laboratories would have to seek a special-use permit from village trustees. The village has not yet received a formal application for zoning approvals, Farace said.
No cannabis would be produced, consumed or sold at the site. Sergio Sanchez, the vice president of analytical services at IEH, did not immediately return messages for comment Tuesday.
Nearly two months into legal recreational sales, cultivation centers are geographically dispersed across Illinois, but testing labs are not.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture has licensed a dozen such labs, but PharmaCann's Unruh said he's aware of only a handful downstate that actively check samples for potency, pesticides, molds, mildews, heavy metals and other harmful contaminants.
"Right now, there are no testing delays based on capacity issues," he said. "There are testing delays that are based on the evolution of testing protocols."
After the state required heavy metal testing, there was "something of a rough rollout," Unruh said. Labs had to purchase new instruments and develop the methodology.
"The more labs you have, the more transparent the testing process is and the more likely you are to have valid and reliable results among the labs," he said.
PharmaCann, which operates four Verilife dispensaries and two cultivation centers in Illinois, has product tested at LK Pure Labs and ACT Laboratories in Morton.
Adding more testing facilities also could help reduce costs passed onto adult consumers.
"We have medical patients that have trouble affording these products, and so we're trying to bring them off the illicit market and onto the regulated market, but the regulated market is fussy," Unruh said. "It has a lot of steps, and it's complicated and it's challenging, so anything we can do to reduce these intermediary costs, these costs of production, and I think quality assurance is a cost of production, that is going to be passed onto the patients and to the consumers."
The list of labs licensed to test marijuana include the following: ICR Labs, Inc.; ACT Laboratories, Inc.; LK Pure Labs; Grace Analytical Laboratory, Inc.; Advanced Herbal Analytics, LLC; Deibel Laboratories of Illinois; UniTech Labs of Illinois; MS Bioanalyticals, LLC; ICR Labs, Inc.; Cogent Lab, LLC; QC CLB IV, Inc. and CanMed Labs, LLC.