Missouri’s Cannabis Testing Program Gets Underway As Medical Sales Begin
The first legal medical cannabis sales in Missouri took place over the weekend, following the opening of two dispensaries in St. Louis County that attracted long lines of medical marijuana card-holding patients.
The grand opening of the state’s medical cannabis program comes two years after residents voted to legalize the drug for medical use.
Cannabis testing facilities have been testing this first initial batch of products over the past several weeks. And with these testing systems now calibrated and the material from the first batch properly tested the medical-grade cannabis products are now ready for sale and patient use.
EKG Labs completes initial testing for first legal products
This initial batch of cannabis products to hit the shelves in Missouri was tested by EKG Labs, the state’s first laboratory to pass inspection for beginning medical cannabis testing back in September of this year.
Soon after passing these final inspections, the laboratory began calibration and testing procedures on products from BeLeaf Medical – the first cannabis cultivation site approved by the state – with a view to beginning legal medical cannabis sales as soon as possible.
“Our first batch is in the hands of EKG Labs,” BeLeaf Medical co-founder John Curtis told St. Louis Public Radio last Monday. “They’ve had it about a week, actually maybe a little longer… which is common and perfectly normal for that first test to take a little bit longer.”
“Once they’re really up and running and all of their calibration is complete, it should be a five-day turnaround,” Curtis added. “So, if we drop a sample off on Monday, we hope to hear back by Friday if it can be put on the shelves for sale.”
Patients hoping to buy some of this early product should be aware that costs are likely to start out at the steeper end of the scale, as supply will be very tight. So far, Missouri has awarded 60 business licenses to cannabis cultivators in the state. But alongside BeLeaf Medical, there are only two other licensed cultivators currently actively growing cannabis for harvest. Both of these other cultivators are expected to have their products on shelves by the end of the month. But it is still anticipated that demand will outstrip supply for the first several months of legal sales before other cultivators complete their operations.
Cannabis testing requirements in Missouri
Missouri has issued ten licenses for cannabis testing facilities, the maximum number allowed under the state’s rules for cannabis testing. As a part of their licensing, these facilities are expected to keep to strict guidelines ensuring the quality and proficiency of the laboratory operations.
Testing laboratories are required to comply with the ISO/IEC 17025 “general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories” standard at all times, and must also become fully accredited to this standard within one year of receiving approval from the state. All licensed facilities must also take part in a proficiency testing program that will assess the laboratories at least biannually.
Labs conducting cannabinoid profile testing will have to test for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and cannabinol (CBN) at a minimum. While there is no set maximum for any of these analytes, the regulations note that a batch can still fail if the percentage deviation from the mean across the batch lot exceeds fifteen percent.
The rules also require that testing for contaminants must include microbial screening, chemical residue screening, heavy metal screening, residual solvent analysis, foreign matter screening, and water activity, and moisture content analysis. A full list of action limits for these contaminants can be found in the Code of State Regulations, Title 19 CSR-30-95.070.
All testing results generated by these labs are sent to a statewide track and trace system and any cannabis material that fails this regimen is not allowed to be re-tested. Instead, the cannabis must be immediately placed on hold pending disposal or remediation.
The future for cannabis in Missouri
Although initial demand is expected to be high where supply is low, future projections for the Missouri medical cannabis market anticipate that the sector could become highly valuable to the state’s economy.
Projections modeled by the 2020 Marijuana Business Factbook predicts that the medical cannabis program could bring in $25-30 million USD in sales in 2020 alone. By 2024, these sales figures could rise to anywhere between $650-525 million.
In terms of licensing, the state has approved applications from almost 200 dispensaries across Missouri. Lyndall Fraker, director of the program for the state Department of Health and Senior Services, had said that the department is working “extremely hard” to carry out the necessary final inspections on all licensed facilities as soon as requests come in.
“With 192 dispensaries licensed, we should expect the majority will be open by the end of the year,” Fraker told St. Louis Public Radio.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted much of the cannabis supply chain, from the legislative process to the testing laboratories, Fraker says that his department has been able to adapt well to avoid major delays.
“It really hasn’t slowed our department down much,” he said. “Once we got our technology in place to allow for remote work, we have stayed right on track.”
As the first legal medical cannabis sales took place, the Department of Health and Senior Services also announced the launch of a new interactive facility map, updated daily with the details of dispensaries and other licensed facilities as they are granted approval to operate.