Maine has issued its first conditional recreational marijuana testing license to a Portland laboratory.
Nova Analytics of Portland must now obtain a temporary municipal license from the city of Portland and certification from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct specific marijuana potency and purity tests before it can convert its provisional state license issued by the Office of Marijuana Policy into an active one.
If all goes as planned, Nova will open its doors in July, Nova Analytics cofounder and CEO Chris Altomare said.
“It’s been a long process, but we are very excited, and very proud, to get Maine’s first conditional testing license,” Altomare said. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but we are doing everything we can to make sure testing is ready to go when the market opens, whenever that may be.”
The Office of Marijuana Policy had planned to allow commercial adult-use cannabis sales to begin next month, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put the launch on indefinite hold, with regulators citing the public health concerns posed by opening day crowds.
The state also had cited a lack of adult-use marijuana testing labs as a contributing factor in its decision to postpone the launch. The pandemic had forced Kennebunk to delay an April referendum on approval of Nelson Analytical, another testing lab seeking a state marijuana testing license.
But this month, the Portland City Council created a new marijuana license category that allows for temporary local permitting of marijuana testing laboratories like Nova Analytics. That eliminated the biggest hurdle standing between any laboratory and an active state testing license.
Upon opening, the lab on Milliken Street will be able to conduct all marijuana potency and purity tests required under Maine state law on 100 samples a day, Altomare said. But the 4,000-square-foot lab has the room to quadruple its testing capacity as demand grows, he said. It is advertising a 48-hour turnaround time.
Nova will employ five workers, in addition to its three founders, upon opening, and expects to double that by the end of the year, Altomare said. In addition to Altomare, the other founders are Barry Chaffin and Gregory Newland.
The lab has not yet set its prices, Altomare said, but he expects Nova Analytics’ fees to be in line with local testing rates for medical marijuana. That doesn’t leave Nova with much profit margin – medical testing is relatively cheap in Maine because it is not required by state law.
But the recreational marijuana law passed in 2016 and overhauled twice in 2018 and 2019 requires potency and safety testing of all adult-use cannabis products. The number of tests will increase as the laboratory capacity and industry expands to include residual solvent and pesticide screenings.
The state has identified four other companies – Nelson Analytical in Kennebunk, ProVerde Laboratories of Portland, Esotera Laboratory in Bangor and Catlab LLC in Eliot – with a high degree of readiness to conduct state-mandated safety and potency testing of adult-use cannabis.
Other states have struggled to license enough labs to test all the marijuana products prepared for sale. Maine has taken steps to avoid that by trying to license testing labs before other marijuana businesses and delaying the most complicated, costly tests until the second year of the market.
To avoid a testing bottleneck at the start of the market, Altomare is asking customers to complete a survey that will help gauge early testing demands.
Maine does have a few labs that test medical marijuana, but not on the state’s orders. Maine is the only state that doesn’t require medical marijuana sold here to undergo testing. Instead, labs like Nelson and Pro Verde work directly for medical growers who use the results for research and marketing.
Nova Analytics will start off testing adult-use marijuana, including home grown products, but hopes to work with the state to begin testing medical marijuana, too. State lawmakers have suggested they will phase in mandatory testing of medical marijuana, too, despite loud industry opposition.