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Local shops anxious to sell retail marijuana hope state OKs testing labs at Aug. 23 meeting

  • Incense Haze X Chem cannabis flower is displayed June 27, 2018, at the INSA dispensary in Easthampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2018

Retail marijuana shops are hopeful that state officials will clear a major hurdle keeping sales at bay when they vote on licensing testing laboratories in two weeks.

The executive director of the Cannabis Control Commission, Shawn Collins, told commissioners Thursday that he was “relatively confident” that one or two labs would be ready for a licensing vote at the panel’s next meeting on Aug. 23.

“One of the barriers right now is getting these third-party testing facilities licensed,” said Mark Zatyrka, chief operating officer at INSA in Easthampton. “We are confident that will happen.”

On Thursday, INSA received a provisional license to sell recreational marijuana, as well as for processing and growing recreational marijuana. Zatyrka said sales are pending on recreational testing labs.

Massachusetts law requires all cannabis products, medicinal and recreational, to be independently tested for potency and possible contaminants before they are sold.

INSA is allowed a one-time rollover of inventory from its medicinal crop of marijuana to recreational, Zatyrka said, but that will still require retesting at a licensed recreational lab even though its been tested at a medicinal lab.

Those recreational labs will not differ from the medicinal labs in their testing procedures, according to Zatyrka. Both will undergo the same “threshold” and testing limits. In addition to approving testing labs, the Cannabis Control Commission also is working to hand out the first final license for a retail shop in the state.

Zatyrka noted that the provisional license INSA received this week will still require commissioners to inspect their facility and meet all of requirements before a final license is issued.

Norton Arbelaez, director of governmental affairs for New England Treatment Access in Northampton, said that it would be a “positive step forward” should the commission approve licenses for recreational testing facilities later this month.

“There is a need for a robust, independent, third-party testing lab sector of the industry for public health and safety so that the public knows what they are getting and it is a critical piece of regulation,” said Arbalaez.

NETA, which operates a medical marijuana dispensary on Conz Street, has also received a provisional license from the commission for the recreational sale, cultivation and production at its Forge Parkway grow operation in Franklin.

Arbalaez said dispensaries are working in “good faith” with the commission to properly roll out retail pot sales, and that public health and safety is the number one priority for everyone.

“Everyone on the industry side and the regulation side is working hard to make it possible,” Arbalaez said.

The testing labs are necessary to make sure the consumer knows the potency of the product, he said, as well as making sure that there is no mold, mildew or anything unwanted on the plants. The labs make sure consumers know what the doses are for marijuana and edible products that are placed on labels.

Arbalaez said NETA will follow guidance from the commission in terms of expanding into the recreational market from medicinal and are awaiting the final roadmap from regulators.

“The state is undoing 80 years of marijuana prohibition and that does not happen overnight,” he said.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com