What’s In Your Weed? Touring Florida’s Marijuana Testing Lab

Photo Credit: Travis Cohen

Medical marijuana is not at all like other prescribed drugs. It’s a living, cultivated product. Whereas most pharmaceuticals are mass-produced according to recipes that result from chemical testing and engineering, cannabis is a crop. And just like tomatoes or soybeans, there’s no real guarantee that one harvest will be the same as another.

So how do you know exactly which herb will be the most beneficial for your ailment? How can Florida’s doctors, many of whom have never prescribed medical marijuana, know which strain, concentration, and dosage is right for their patients? That space between the grower, physician, and patient is where Christopher Martinez, president and cofounder of Evio Labs Florida, has found his niche.

The 30-year-old graduated magna cum laude with a degree in health-care administration from Barry University and has been working in the field of medical machinery for ten years. He has sat in on dozens of ankle and wrist surgeries, assisting doctors in finding the best ways to reproduce the same successful results time after time. That experience helped lead him into marijuana testing.

Martinez and his team this past September opened a million-dollar-plus cannabis laboratory, among Florida’s first, in Davie. It spans three warehouse bays and tests for 12 cannabinoids, hundreds of pesticides, and bacterial cultures. Martinez and a partner also developed an app, MJ Buddy, that aims to help patients determine what kinds of medical marijuana are right for them. The app is also intended to be a tool for doctors, who will be able to use feedback from patients nationwide to get a sense of what strains and forms of cannabis are best suited for the treatment of specific conditions.

The pot industry is in its infancy in Florida. A great deal of regulation has yet to be put in place, and Martinez wants to help the state decide exactly what those regulations will look like. “We’re hoping that we can keep patients in Florida safe,” he says, “with regulations that fit the needs of the patients in Florida and for the environment.”

After the passage of Amendment 2 in November 2016, Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 8A into law in May 2017. Between June 7 and August 21 last year, the number of patients certified for treatment with medical marijuana almost doubled. That explosion of patients might prove to be a significant boon for the economy: Some reports project $1.6 billion worth of growth in Florida’s marijuana market by 2020.

Unfortunately for many ailing people, Florida is barely keeping up with the influx of patients, most of whom must wait at least a month before receiving state-issued ID cards. Qualified illnesses range from neuropathy and glaucoma to Crohn’s disease and cancer. Researchers have found cannabinoids can be particularly beneficial in the treatment of specific ailments. CB1 and CB2, for instance, have been found to alleviate pain and motor symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis.

Martinez’s laboratory is set up like a scientist’s playground. “We have some of the most advanced technology when it comes to being able to turn around results in a fairly quick amount of time,” Martinez says. The $1.3 million in equipment ranges from Shimadzu gas chromatography machines that cost as much as $550,000 to freezers that can drop to temperatures as low as -112 degrees Fahrenheit.

All of this comes as a result Martinez’s partnership with Evio Labs, which he describes as being like the McDonald’s of cannabis testing. It has a practically unrivaled foothold in this growing industry. In the past month, shares of Evio Inc. have jumped 201 percent, and a second lab in Florida is scheduled to open soon in Gainesville. So it’s safe to say the business of marijuana is taking root in the Sunshine State.