Gainesville will soon become home to Florida’s first medical cannabis testing facility north of Interstate 4, furthering Alachua County’s role in an industry that’s steadily ballooning in Florida.
EVIO Labs Florida, Gainesville, an under-construction laboratory located in north Gainesville, west of Main Street, will open sometime in April or May, said Ryan Hurley, the cannabis testing lab’s office manager. He played an integral role in bringing the lab to Gainesville after making contact with EVIO Labs Florida, located in Davie.
The EVIO Labs corporate headquarters is in Bend, Oregon, and its labs test cannabis products in five states: California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Florida and Oregon.
Unlike its corporately-owned labs outside of Florida, EVIO’s Florida labs are licensed from EVIO and owned by Kaycha Holdings LLC, a company majority-owned by EVIO Labs Florida CEO James Horvath and Christopher Martinez, its president.
EVIO Labs Florida, Gainesville, like its other labs, will test samples of cannabis products from licensed Florida cultivators, or producers.
The small, randomized samples, which are currently transported to the facility by cultivators, will be tested by lab employees, while keeping in mind the products batch size, Hurley said.
The lab’s employees will test the product for pesticides; E. coli; salmonella; aspergillus, a type of fungi; THC-levels; terpenes levels; and heavy metals, among other contaminants, “or anything that might be harmful to humans,” Hurley said. They approve or disapprove of products based on the results.
Its Shimadzu lab equipment can check for contaminants in cannabis products at a scale of parts per billion, he said.
Hurley said the lab already has deals to run tests with the products with two dozen over-the-counter hemp companies, and they are in talks with licensed cannabis cultivators in hopes they’ll be the third party to test their products.
The state of Florida’s Senate Bill 8A, which became effective in June, requires all companies with Medical Marijuana Treatment Center licenses — which allow them to cultivate, process and dispense medical cannabis — to have a third party test their products before they are released to dispensaries or delivered to customers.
Though the state requires cannabis cultivators to use third-party testing, the state does not currently regulate medical cannabis testing labs, Hurley said.
Mara Gambineri, communication director for the Florida Department of Health, said Monday that the department has initiated rulemaking for testing laboratories and testing standards. The Department of Health will hold a public rule development workshop on March 20 in Jacksonville.
However, Hurley said, EVIO’s Florida labs have been accredited with the ISO 17025 standard, meaning it meets standards for sample testing and calibration using standard methods, non-standard methods and laboratory-developed methods.
The lab will employee mostly people with scientific backgrounds, Hurley said, like laboratory technicians and chemists.
Hurley, a former UF Health nurse, serves as patient safety adviser for his nonprofit, SMRT Collective, which focuses on cannabis education, patient advocacy and philanthropy. He told the Sun Monday it was his original plan to use his tie to the nonprofit to start his own lab — the SMRT lab, he called it.
Realizing there wasn’t a medical cannabis testing lab in North Florida, where a large sector of medical cannabis cultivation was occurring, he said, it was a no-brainer to start his own patient-focused testing facility in Gainesville. But after meeting with EVIO Labs Florida at a trade show, he felt working with them to start a lab in Gainesville would expedite the lab opening by at least several months.
Hurley said Gainesville’s medical cannabis market has unlimited potential. He said Gainesville has the potential to be the biggest “sleeper-city” in Florida’s medical cannabis market, adding that the city might not be well-known but it will be a “huge” player in the Florida market.
About a month ago, the Toronto-based company Liberty Health Sciences, an investor and operator in the medical cannabis market launched in 2011, closed a deal to purchase 242 Cannabis, a subsidiary of medical cannabis company 242 Cannabis Canada — a deal which includes a 387-acre parcel north of Gainesville, southeast of Brooker.
The land will become the home of what is called the Liberty 360-degree Innovation Campus, said Liberty’s CEO George Scorsis.
The campus — already fitted with about 200,000 square feet of greenhouses and processing facilities — will undergo a retrofit in the coming months, including the construction of a 16,000-square-foot processing area for the extraction and refining of cannabis oils and manufacturing of products for vaporizers, such as preloaded disposable pens, cartridges and pods. A commercial kitchen will also be built for making cannabis edibles.
Upon completion, Liberty’s Alachua County operation is expected to produce about 27,000 pounds of medical cannabis a year.
Hurley pointed to other medical cannabis operations going on in Gainesville, like Greenwise.TV, a Florida Grown cannabis TV Network, and University of Florida researchers receiving grants for medical cannabis research, among others.
He believes Gainesville is a good place for growing Florida’s medical cannabis industry because of the support of its residents.
“I love how Gainesville is accepting cannabis,” he said.
Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said the sudden growth of the medical cannabis industry in Gainesville is a testament to its “strong business climate.”
“I think it shows that Gainesville is a place for new and innovative businesses to come and grow,” he said.