JEFFERSON COUNTY — Jefferson County likely will allow marijuana testing facilities to operate next year, but industry experts question whether there will be interest or if those businesses will survive.
After more than two years of discussions, the commissioners informed county staff that they would like to pursue allowing testing facilities in unincorporated Jefferson County but would vote on banning retail sales and the grow industry.
“We are taking small steps in looking at this industry,” Commissioner Don Rosier said. “We felt testing was that first step.”
Rosier — who represents most of unincorporated Jeffco — was the biggest proponent of allowing testing facilities when commissioners revisited the marijuana industry after appointing a work group to study the issue last year and later extended a moratorium banning marijuana sales in unincorporated Jefferson County until Jan. 1, 2016.
Ordinances allowing testing and banning retail sales and grows will be read and voted on by mid-November to allow the laws to go into effect at the start of 2016. Jeffco, like other areas that allow marijuana testing, will permit labs only in industrial zones.
However, some of those already in the marijuana testing industry, don’t think Jefferson County will soon be a hotbed for testing labs.
“If you already have two (labs) serving people’s needs in a county that largely has no recreational market other than a few places, who’s it going to serve?” said Ronn Nixon, a marijuana consumer advocate and former member of Jeffco’s marijuana task force.
Jefferson County is also a tough testing market in that Lakewood, Arvada and Golden do not allow retail sales.
“Any lab coming in will find not so much business,” said Peter Perrone, owner of Gobi Analytical in Wheat Ridge. “It’s a very competitive environment and it’s keeping costs low.”
Gobi is one of two labs in Wheat Ridge that test marijuana. Perrone said that while his lab is one of the bigger ones in the state, there are several factors making the industry a difficult one.
Labs are only allowed to test marijuana, and many cultivation facilities are not required to do as much testing once their product becomes validated.
Perrone said that while he has seen an increase in customers, he’s getting less business because once a specific product passes inspection four times, it only needs to be tested twice a year.
Next year, the state will require medical marijuana facilities to begin testing, which should create more business. But according to Ian Barringer, who owns Rm3 Labs in Boulder County, most of the existing labs will get certified for medical testing and likely dominate the market.
There are 19 testing facilities in the state and, according to Barringer, about four or five get most of the business. However, he does believe someone will try to open a marijuana testing lab in Jeffco.
“I would expect there may well be an applicant, either an existing lab wanting to move, or a new applicant,” he said. “But unless they come with existing body of clients, or some sort of advantage, it will be tough.”
Barringer and Perrone both own labs that are about 2,000 square feet, with Barringer’s set to double in size. Each area of testing, from flowers to edibles, have different machines that run the tests, making the labs cramped.
Perrone has seven full-time workers and two part-time staff. The lab technicians are paid around $50,000 per year with the lab director making around $70,000. A bachelor’s degree in a science field and previous experience at a lab is required.
The higher education component is something that Rosier said appealed to him when studying the issue, even though it will not produce any sales tax revenue.
“It provides that opportunity for investment in the county, job creation in the county,” Rosier said. “Is it going to be a whole bunch of jobs? Probably not, but it fits in with our business clusters.”
But according to Nixon, it only further emphasizes what he believes to be an institutional bias against marijuana in Jeffco.
“I think cherry picking the highest-paid, best-educated, non-consumer function of regulated marijuana is a disservice and is not a step in the right direction, but really establishes the county’s long-standing institutional prejudice against marijuana,” Nixon said.
Mike Elliott with the Marijuana Industry Group said allowing testing is a safe option, but he doesn’t know that anyone will open a facility as it won’t be convenient for potential customers.
“They’re probably looking for locations where they are going to have traffic,” he said. “Who knows, maybe a testing facility will do it anyway.”
Joe Vaccarelli: 303-954-2396, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/joe_vacc