Steep Hill, a global leader in cannabis science, is set to open a testing lab in Little Rock. The company has nine labs across the United States, as well as international locations. Brandon Thornton, co-owner and CEO of Steep Hill Arkansas, licensed through the Arkansas Department of Health, is responsible for bringing the company to The Natural State.
“When the amendment passed here, I really wanted to get involved,” he says. “I started looking around and found Steep Hill and was just really impressed with what they have accomplished in California, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico.”
The goal for Thornton is to provide safe and clean cannabis for medical marijuana patients in Arkansas.
“As a health care professional, the most important thing is patient safety,” he says. “We’re making sure patients get safe, clean cannabis that won’t cause them any sort of harm in the form of contaminants. Cannabis is really safe by itself, but what can hurt you are the contaminants on the cannabis. Particularly, pesticides; that really is something that is a concern because you’re dealing with products that are not meant to be smoked or combusted.”
Thornton says part of the problem when it comes to testing cannabis is that there is no guidance from pesticide companies on what growers can use on cannabis because it is federally illegal. There are no Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards on how to grow cannabis like there are for other agricultural crops.
“If we were testing spinach, the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration would say this is what it’s supposed to look like, these are the things you want to test for, and this is how you do it,” he explains. “But because cannabis is federally illegal, the states have to determine how and what, and the rules of the program. So, what’s in California is not here, and what’s here is not in Illinois. Our program is very similar to Orgeon’s program as far as the number of tests and what is required for testing.”
Thornton says while the state only requires four cannabinoids, the chemical in cannabis that give it its medical and THC properties, to be tested they do test for 24 cannabinoids. Steep Hill Arkansas also tests for 47 terpenes (which the state does not require), which gives the plant its flavor and aroma.
They can also help growers identify if their plants are male or female. Unfertilized female plants are the only ones that produce a flower containing cannabinoids. According to Thornton, Arkansas growers can only cultivate 200 plants, so having a male plant is not ideal.
Explaining the testing process Thornton says, “If you’re a grower and ready for a test, then you call us and we go to your facility, take a sample, bring it back to the lab and test it. We don’t need very much we just take a small amount to test.”