Founder Genifer Murray and CannLabs' testing regimen bring science and transparency to a marijuana industry flush with cash and beset with challenges
Genifer Murray studied microbiology, but went into marketing as a career. She's now using both skills as CEO of CannLabs, which is angling to become the fledgling industry's preeminent marijuana-testing firm.
"It's just like anything else you put in your body," says Murray of cannabis. "You would never dream of taking a pill without knowing what it contains. Cannabis can't kill you but it can sure make you sick."
Because of federal laws and other factors, testing was not a requirement when medical marijuana started booming in Colorado in 2009. "Unfortunately, cannabis went backwards," Murray laments.
Because of the ad hoc evolution in a formerly black market, the edibles industry is now playing logistical catch-up. A recent Denver Post report found huge inconsistencies in potency in edibles. "A lot of companies started making brownies in their kitchen," notes Murray. "You have to have solid manufacturing practices."
After founding CannLabs in 2010 and teaming with COO Steve Kilts the following year, Murray says the company is poised for serious growth in 2014. "Only about five percent of the industry is currently testing," says Murray. "Testing becomes mandatory July to October." When that time comes, many businesses "are going to have a rude awakening."
She anticipates CannLabs' business to triple or quadruple by the end of 2014 and will hire a chemist, a microbiologist, and several lab interns.
When CannLabs launched, it tested plants the potency of three cannabinoids. Today it tests for nine cannabinoids, as well as microbes, pesticides, and heavy metals, and clients include "several hundred" growers and edible manufacturers, Murray says.
Notes Murray: "We are a science company first and a cannabis company second. We want to legitimize the cannabis business with science."
Beyond adhering to regulations, CannLabs' customers can use their test results in marketing. "People can display their potency on Weedmaps," says Murray.
Murray sees the medical efficacy of cannabis becoming more accepted by the general public. She points to a patient with extreme narcolepsy, children with severe epilepsy, and even more common maladies like menstrual cramps. "Cannabis is 100 times better for you than Tylenol, Advil, or Midol," says Murray of the latter.
If federal money went into research into the medical efficacy of cannabis, "I think we'll find it protects and regenerates the nervous system," she adds, citing its efficacy with epileptic kids. In this context, testing is "critical."
Challenges: "The government," says Murray. "It was super hard to do a build-out [at our lab]. All of the inspectors were saying, 'I've never seen anything like this."
In the same vein, Murray points to banking and taxes as related hurdles for the cannabis industry. "We don't have banks," she says. "Then they tax you like a drug dealer."
Opportunities: "There are endless opportunities," says Murray. "It's not just science and retail." From public relations to real estate, "Everything you can possibly imagine will move into cannabis. We're lowering unemployment."
For its part, CannLabs is expanding into markets beyond Colorado. "We're currently building a lab in Canada and ramping up in other states," says Murray, citing Washington, Connecticut, and Illinois as potential expansion targets.
Needs: Continued focus on the long term, says Murray. Or as she puts it, "Keep on keepin' on, and spread the good word about cannabis."