Medical-cannabis outfit’s risk-taking leads to patients refusing untested pot
Steep Hill Lab is at the center of cannabis testing in California and is now recognized as a world leader in medical-marijuana research. Its current location in Oakland is shiny, clean and huge with room to grow in a large, gated one-story office space near the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It’s a long way from the dog-hair-ridden, one-bedroom Emeryville apartment where Steep Hill started in 2008.
Thought to be the first of its kind, the marijuana-testing project was launched by David Lampach, a young, self-taught grower, and Addison DeMoura, a fellow cannabis-science enthusiast. The two convinced Stephen DeAngelo to personally invest in what would be called Analytical Laboratories.
DeAngelo, a 54-year-old Washington, D.C., native, believes that if cannabis is medicine—as it is by law in California—it should be tested like any other medicine.
The Dutch had already published a method for using a gas chromatograph to assess cannabis’ potency. Lampach and DeMoura adapted it and began sampling weed. The process involves making an extract from a sample of the strain in question, say, a couple pounds of primo OG Kush. Flowers are picked, ground, agitated in a solvent and an extract is fed to the gas chromatograph. The process can take three days. Analytical Labs also began conducting tests for mold and bacteria, which take a week.
By spring 2009, numbers were appearing next to the display buds at a Northern California dispensary: “23 [percent] THC .01 [percent] CBD,” a sample might read. Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, was among the first molecules found in pot to affect the nervous system, and it’s commonly thought to cause pot’s euphoric effects.
Skeptics questioned Analytical Labs’ in-house methodology and credentials, yet the lab added other dispensaries as customers. One of the few economic-growth industries during the height of the recession, dispensaries bloomed in 2009, and so did labs. The Green Rush was on.
By the summer of 2010, High Times magazine had tapped DeMoura and Lampach to test herb for the magazine’s first San Francisco Medical Cannabis Cup. A number of new local competitors entered the market as well, including CW Analytical and Pure Analytics, and, later, Halent Laboratories in Davis.
And now, many of California’s estimated 1 million qualified cannabis patients refuse to buy untested weed.