High Quality: RI tests the waters of cannabis testing

Since the legalization of compassion centers for medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island in 2013, there has been a law on the books requiring that cannabis products be tested in state. That’s all the law says, leaving the hows, whens and wherefores up to the Department of Business Regulation (DBR) and Department of Health (DoH) to specify. Regulations were developed, but never required. That’s changing this year.

Previously, without any specifics about how to test or what to test for, the practice of testing was really on the honor code. The compassion centers were testing – although it’s unclear how often or for what – to satisfy their own internal quality control requirements. What’s changing is that they’ll now be held to a common standard and report to the DBR beginning on January 14 (any cannabis that flowers from Jan 14 onward will require testing). It’s good news for patients, and good news for the two RI labs approved by the state to run these tests.

Testing is used to confirm the potency that might be listed on any given product. It’s also important for detecting contaminants such as pesticides, metals that leech into grows through bad soil, and the most common contaminant in grown product, mold, which can reduce potency and be dangerous in its own right.

So far, there are only two labs that have passed the variety of requirements to be approved to test cannabis in RI, Green Peaks Analytical (GPA), the first to be certified, and East Coast Labs (ECL), both of Warwick. “Every state is different, so we go to our DoH with any questions. Regardless of what any other state is doing, RI wants it their way,” explains Melissa Manamon, technical director and quality assurance coordinator for GPA, a division of RI Analytical Laboratories.

Both labs have been testing at the request of growers and dispensaries for years, but without any formal mandate. Both were finally certified in the last quarter of 2020, after multi-year application processes. Both the DBR and the DoH need to approve each facility, and each agency has its own process and requirements. “Our main testing licensing is through the DoH, but we also report to the DBR. It’s been a two-year process,” says Manamon.

“It’s been a long, involved process,” says Kimberlee Witkop of ECL. “We’re very excited to have received our license and to move forward, helping the community put more faith in the quality of the products they’re getting.”

Marijuana is still a schedule 1 drug, a fact that seems more and more ridiculous with each passing year. As a result, the DBR’s requirements are mostly geared toward security — making sure there’s no point at which a sample (typically a very small amount) could be diverted or stolen. The DoH focuses on regulating the testing itself and determining criteria for what is acceptable. “It’s not pass/fail analysis,” says Manamon. “We test for potency — the result is a percentage. Just knowing the plant and the common problems one expects to see in these sorts of facilities, it will really be about the microbial purity – detecting heavy metals, mold, salmonella, e. Coli, things like that.”

While testing will be required for products sold in dispensaries, some dispensaries may push the testing requirements back onto growers. In either event, labs will be sending technicians on-site to do some of the testing in quarantine areas designated by the operation being tested. That will also provide the opportunity to inspect the facility and environment.

Paul Perrotti, president of GPA, has long had the vision of providing this sort of testing. “He is very excited about it. People have been using it [cannabis] for so many years now, and there’s never been any certification. He’s very excited to see that problem solved,” says Manamon.

“I am extremely proud of our team who really dug deep to make sure our facility is compliant to all regulations at the highest level. It was a tough and challenging process to finally obtain our license that has taken nearly a year of our time,” said Henry Mu, partner and CFO at ECL. “After years of providing cannabis testing services in RI, ECL is now officially a part of the cannabis community. That license represents years of working to forge a relationship with the DoH and DBR and lobbying for mandatory testing, which is now being implemented,” adds Matthew Madison, ECL founder and CEO. “We believe it’s not medical marijuana until it’s tested marijuana.”

The state expects to have a publicly accessible database of test results, a “Medical Marijuana Program Tracking System,” at an unspecified future date. For now, if you’d like to see the full rules and regulations around testing, you can find that here: