Measuring medical marijuana

Traveling laboratory analyzes THC content

Better medicine? Dispensaries can find out using Steep Hill Medical’s gas chromatography-mass spectrometer.

Better medicine? Dispensaries can find out using Steep Hill Medical’s gas chromatography-mass spectrometer.

Skip Jones has been an underground cannabis cultivator for 26 years; for obvious reasons, he writes under a pseudonym.

Marijuana has been at the bottom of the scientific research list for just about as long as it has been illegal. When something is deemed unsuitable for human consumption or is found to have no medicinal value, why test any further?

Society puts its trust in government regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Drug Enforcement Agency, which have ignored the medicinal value of cannabis, branding it as a gateway drug.

There is dronabinol, Marinol by brand name, which is FDA-approved synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. However, the government sells it by weight, and does not provide THC content to patients. Medical marijuana is much more effective than Marinol, but most dispensaries don’t provide THC content information, either.

That’s where the Steep Hill Medical Collective comes in.

Steep Hill measures what the state and federal government have so far refused to touch: the potency of medicinal cannabis. Co-owned by Addison DeMoura, Steve DeAngelo and David Lampach, the company travels throughout the state, from dispensary to dispensary, collecting samples to bring back to the laboratory. There, it’s analyzed for THC content using a gas chromatography-mass spectrometer.

SN&R spoke to DeMoura about the process of testing medicinal cannabis when he was passing through Sacramento last week.

What brought you to this type of science?

I owned a dispensary in Stanislaus County, and I was raided by a task force at both the shop and my home, pulling my son out of his bed at machine-gunpoint.

Pretty traumatic.

Yeah, we have a federal civil lawsuit pending against the police who raided my house. I’ve been arrested for helping people, and I feel it’s my duty to continue helping people.

Do the feds do this kind of work?

I’m sure they do, but not for the people.

So, this lab you test in, tell us about it.

Our lab is standardized and certified by the city of Oakland. We charge $80 per sample; the sample amount is 1 gram per strain of cannabis. We then put the sample into a gas chromatography-mass spectrometer and, well, the rest is our trade technique.

So, in a way, you guys are quality control.

Yeah, only it’s not mandatory at this point.

You only test what clients give you?

We’d would love to see more dispensaries have their entire stock tested; some do have us test their entire menu.

How long until the samples are returned?

Three to four days.

Does your company test anything else?

Absolutely not. This is for the medical-marijuana community only at this point; if the laws change this will become mandatory, I believe. Our machine has only tested cannabis its entire life.

What does testing tell us about medicinal cannabis?

I hope to create a forum and criteria for accountability.

What is the difference between medical marijuana and street marijuana?

(Chuckles.) Well, I haven’t seen anything from the street in a long time, but that’s what I’m talking about. Accountability will distinguish that. We are for “Joe Patient.” Marijuana is expensive if you don’t grow your own, and a lot of people can’t. People should be able to know they are getting their money’s worth, especially when it comes to an alternative therapy.

What’s the future hold for Steep Hill Medical?

We hope we are setting a standard for all medical cannabis providers, and this will evolve into a necessity for the medical community.