Kahului marijuana testing lab gets OK to begin operations

Pharmlab joins Steep Hill Hawaii on Oahu as the only labs certified by state DOH to test medical marijuana

Cannabis plants  are shown growing in Honolulu. The state Department of Health certified Kahului-based Pharmalab to begin testing medical marijuana by the end of the week. AP file photo

Cannabis plants are shown growing in Honolulu. The state Department of Health certified Kahului-based Pharmalab to begin testing medical marijuana by the end of the week. AP file photo

Pharmlab Hawaii LLC in Kahului became the second independent laboratory in Hawaii certified to test medical marijuana produced by licensed dispensaries and is expected to begin analyzing material for content and safety by the end of the week, according to state Health Department and lab officials.

Pharmlab joins Steep Hill Hawaii on Oahu as the only labs certified by the Health Department to test and analyze medical marijuana produced by licensed dispensaries in the state. The testing checks product safety, content and potency.

Steep Hill received its approval in July, and the Health Department anticipates that a third company, Oahu-based Aeos Labs, which is operated by Clinical Labs of Hawaii, could be ready for an on-site inspection by January.

“With a certified laboratory now on Maui, dispensaries will no longer have to transport cannabis samples to Oahu for testing, which could potentially reduce costs and allow for faster approval time,” said Wanda Chang, Health Department environmental health analytic services branch chief. “Dispensaries also now have a choice of laboratories for testing cannabis plant material.”

The two licensed Maui dispensaries, Maui Grown Therapies and Pono Life Maui, have begun selling medical marijuana and have been sending their product to Steep Hill on Oahu for testing. With the approval of Pharmlab, both dispensaries are required to use the Maui facility, said Michael Rollins, chief administrative officer of Pharmlab and part owner of the company. He said Tuesday that his company has been in contact with both dispensaries and hopes to begin testing their products by the end of the week.

“We have had a great relationship with both dispensaries,” Rollins said.

While Pharmlab cannot test marijuana from Oahu’s two dispensaries, the lab can test product from the one dispensary on Kauai and the two on Big Island when they open, he said. Pharmlab has been “building our relationship” with the dispensaries on the Big Island — Hawaiian Ethos LLC and Lau Ola LLC — and on Kauai — Green Aloha Ltd. — Rollins said.

He said he believes that the Kauai dispensary could be open by the end of the year and the first Big Island dispensary next spring.

Rollins said he “would love to lobby to change the rule” and be able to test product from any marijuana dispensary in the state. His lab already has the capacity to test 10 times the amount of product from Maui’s two dispensaries, he added.

Rollins also pointed out that the lab has been testing medical marijuana still grown by registered patients, which remains legal until 2028.

Mike Takano, chief executive officer of Pono Life, confirmed Tuesday that his dispensary in Kahului on Dairy Road will be using PharmLab. The Maui lab will reduce transport and security costs and open up the possibility of competition, if the change Rollins seeks occurs, he said.

“There are unique qualities for each of the labs,” Takano said. “We have choices.”

Officials with Maui Grown Therapies, the first dispensary certified to sell medical marijuana in the state in August, could not be reached for comment Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon.

Pharmlab currently is only certified to test flowers, said Rollins, but it is “well into validation for extract material,” such as oils, tinctures and lozenges. Once receiving the rigorous initial approval, the validation for manufactured products is more of a formality without inspections, he said.

Pharmlab passed two days’ worth of inspections this week, Rollins said.

To receive certification, a laboratory must submit validation studies to demonstrate it is capable of testing consistently and accurately, the Health Department said. The labs test for levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and compounds that are considered active ingredients; heavy metals, such as arsenic; pesticides; solvents; moisture content; and microbial contaminants, such as intestinal bacteria and pathogens and dangerous molds that can cause infection, disease and toxins.

The lab also must meet the accreditation standards of the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, the Health Department said.

Licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii are required to have their products tested for safety by a state-certified independent lab prior to sale. Labs interested in providing testing for medical cannabis on Kauai, Hawaii island, Maui or Oahu may apply for state certification at health.hawaii.gov/statelab.

Meanwhile, Takano said Pono Life still is in “the early phase of our soft launch.” The dispensary is currently focused on its priority list of patients, though patients may get on that list by calling or emailing, he said. The dispensary may be reached by phone at 489-9454 and email at maui@ponolife.net.

Pono Life is selling only flowers, but it currently is testing manufactured products including tinctures, oils, lozenges and capsules, Takano said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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