Two Kenai Peninsula growers wasted no time delivering their product to the state's first cannabis testing facility when it opened its doors at 8 a.m. Monday in Anchorage, one of the final steps before Alaskans can legally purchase marijuana.
Leif Abel, co-owner of Greatland Ganja, walked into CannTest LLC right after the testing lab opened; he'd gotten up at 4 a.m. to make the drive from his Kasilof facility to Anchorage.
Abel pulled out 10 white containers, labeled and sealed with tamper-proof tape, from a plastic bag within a latched carrying case. In each container was a 4-gram sample of different cannabis strains from his first outdoor harvest.
CannTest CEO Mark Malagodi checked the containers and labels.
"This all looks good," he said.
CannTest is the first licensed marijuana testing facility in Alaska, and its opening Monday sets the rest of the marijuana industry in motion.
At its most basic level, Alaska's commercial cannabis industry consists of four parts: cultivators who grow the marijuana, testing facilities that evaluate the cannabis, manufacturers that create concentrates and edibles, and retailers who buy cannabis products from growers and manufacturers to sell to the public.
Before marijuana can be sold to consumers, it must be tested for potency and microbials. The opening day for CannTest had been pushed back later than anticipated, so all eyes have been on the testing facility, all other opening dates dependent on the Anchorage lab.
Once the samples dropped off Monday have been tested and approved, the growers can sell their harvest to the shops. The first of those shops could open as early as this week, pending test results.
"It's been a long road and I'm happy to see it finally starting to move." Malagodi said. "We get to play a real part and (provide) a real service to people."
The lab, unassuming from the outside, is tucked into an industrial area in Anchorage's Ship Creek. Inside, the plain white walls were in need of a bit of decorating, Malagodi said.
A few minutes after Abel arrived, Janna Karvonen walked through the doors. Karvonen is a co-owner of Green Rush Gardens, LLC in Sterling, and she had also been on the road since the early hours of the morning. She brought five strains, packaged in the same white tubes, labeled and sealed.
Before driving to CannTest with marijuana samples in tow, Abel and Karvonen had entered their departure and the arrival time into the state's tracking system, known as Metrc. Colorado's commercial market uses the same system.
Both business owners chose to drive up early in the morning, instead of the night before, as growers must make as few stops as possible between their cultivation facility and the testing lab, per state regulation.
Abel's tamper-proof seals took a few minutes to rip off, but once the containers were open, the pungent smell of cannabis wafted through the room. Malagodi weighed the samples to make sure they were 4 grams, enough for both potency and microbial testing.
With the samples weighed, Malagodi marked in Metrc that he had received them. Then he entered the samples into the lab's own internal tracking software before turning them over for testing.
Once the testing is complete, in about 72 hours – Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Malagodi told Abel – Malagodi will enter the results in Metrc. That opens up the batch to be sold to a retailer, Abel said.
For Abel's 10 strains, testing costs came to $1,275. He'll also have to pay the $50-per-ounce tax on the 40 grams of marijuana he submitted for testing, despite the fact that it will be destroyed and will never reach a consumer, Abel said.
"The first cannabis transaction!" Malagodi said after processing Abel's samples.
More growers are on the way. Valkyrie Security and Asset Protection, a security business created to provide transportation for the cannabis industry, will be delivering samples from Fairbanks on Tuesday, owner Larry Clark said.
With the lab open, the state's first retail stores are close behind. Some are planning to open later this week, or in early November.
In Valdez, Herbal Outfitters hopes to open Saturday, general manager Derek Morris said. Cannabis flowers from both Greatland Ganja and Green Rush Gardens will be on the shelves, he said.
In Anchorage, Arctic Herbery will likely have another week before it can start selling immature marijuana plants, owner Bryant Thorp said. He wasn't sure when he'd have product on the shelves.
In Fairbanks, Pakalolo Supply Co. hopes to open on Halloween or in early November, according to co-owner Keenan Hollister.
Two other testing facilities are moving toward opening this winter. AK Green Labs LLC in Anchorage has been approved by the state and hopes to open in early November, owner Brian Coyle said in late September.
In Juneau, Southeast Alaska Laboratories LLC's application is under review by the state, manager Jessica Dreibelbis said in late September. The company hopes to be approved at the Marijuana Control Board's October meeting, with its earliest opening at the end of November, she said.