Will Lab Testing be a Bottleneck for the Rec Market?
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Hi! Thanks for checking out the first installment of Montana Cannabis Weekly! I couldn’t be more excited to start this new adventure, exploring the weird and wonderful world of Montana cannabis.
We’ve got a ton to dig into today: the inside scoop on testing labs’ plan to adapt to the demands of the rec market, a review of my favorite new sativa hybrid, a killer ambient guitar record for smoky days and some awesome job listings.
But first, the big picture: Recreational cannabis sales in Montana will begin on January 1st, 2022, and right now the name of the game is expansion. That means new hires, new grows and new retail spaces (including a shop in Missoula that staked their turf by offering the landlord *three times* the going rent, effectively displacing the current tenants).
The numbers are big. As Justin Franz recently reported in the Montana Free Press, officials are anticipating that providers will need to grow three to five times more weed to accommodate the recreational market (that works out to at least 30 metric tons of weed, annually).
“I think we’re going to run out of weed in less than a week,” Pepper Petersen, president and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild, said in the MTFP story. “We’re barely keeping up with demand [for medical marijuana] right now.”
Yet it’s not just providers that are bracing for huge changes: testing labs are, too. After all, you can have all the weed in the world, but if you can’t get it tested quickly to confirm that it’s safe and ready for sale, you ain’t in business. And since there are only a handful of labs currently operating in Montana, the stakes are high to ensure that testing can keep pace with the enormous rise in supply.
With that in mind, I’m so pumped to kick off our very first installment of our interview series The Quickie! with Andre Umansky, the extremely jovial, Ukranian-born co-owner of Fidelity Labs in Missoula, which he has run with his wife Melissa since 2017.
Fidelity is bracing for a flood of new demand for testing in the rec market, and the Umansky’s have already put a plan in motion to keep up. In our recent interview, Andre explained how they’re going to make it all work.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What's it like running a business with your spouse? That sounds like quite an adventure!
It's great! We enjoy hanging out and working together, being able to develop a business together and seeing the steps we’ve taken come to fruition.
We handle different parts of the business. Melissa takes care of the financial stuff and HR and I focus on the lab and business development. For us it works, and it’s fun. We’re lucky that we can spend long periods of time together without getting too frustrated (laughs).
Do you have any general concerns about rec coming online next year?
Right now we have good testing rules in place, but there are obviously some items that need to be buttoned up [before sales begin in January]: which pesticides to test for, [at what quantities], do we test for total mold or just toxic mold?
I think we can use some serious science to make those decisions. It'll make the process more efficient and the products safer. What we really hope happens during the rule-making process - since we've done this for three and a half years - is that they will take our opinions into consideration. We’ve gained perspective of what's redundant, what's necessary, what the holes are to plug up.
The last time Montana made rules the department was overwhelmed and overworked. I'm hoping those folks now recognize there is a bunch of experience to draw from. I hope they take advantage of that knowledge.
Tell me about how you guys plan to address the rise in demand for testing.
The main concern we hear about is whether providers will be able to keep up with production for the rec market. If that's taken care of, the next concern is whether the laboratory is going to be the bottleneck in the process.
Right now we are doubling our space here in Missoula: doubling our instrumentation, trying to double our employees. [More on that in the Featured Jobs section, below.]
To handle the rest of the state, we are implementing a transport system that will be able to handle all of our clients’ needs with a fast turnaround time. Our drivers will go back and forth three times a day [between Missoula and points east] and clients won't notice any kind of difference in the turnaround time.
How many samples will you be testing?
We’re projecting to be able to handle four times more samples, about 7,000-9,000 per month. We know what's coming and we want everyone to be comfortable knowing labs aren't going to be the bottleneck.
Do you have any other thoughts on the challenges of expansion?
From anyone’s point of view, getting bigger is always harder. There are more moving pieces, more employees, more issues to deal with. We're in the same boat as folks that are getting bigger on the growing end. Those are growing pains. We're here to address those. This is still Montana, and the quality of people here and the quality of talent will be able to overcome those hurdles.
Product of the Week
Peach Purée (8% THC, 9% CBD)
Montana Kush (various locations)
A strong sativa can make many consumers feel over-caffeinated or even itchy. The Peach Purée, a sativa-dominant hybrid from Montana Kush, provides all the uplift of a zippy sativa like Jack Herer, but with enough CBD in the mix to provide balance and keep that potential raciness in check. A cross of Sweet Diesel and California Orange, Peach Purée smells, well, just like a peach. Montana Kush has done a fantastic job of growing and curing this strain; while the nugs are quite small, they are dense and fabulously sticky.
Album of the Week
William Tyler and Luke Schneider - Understand EP
Over the past decade, the guitarist William Tyler has amassed a cult following for his sprawling, ambient compositions and intricate fingerpicking alike; his bandmate Luke Schneider, who also plays in Margo Price’s touring band, has a gift for drawing strange and unexpected sounds out of the lap steel. Put the two together and magic is bound to ensue.
The Understand EP, the duo’s first collaborative project, was released earlier this week, and blends psychedelic pedal steel, guitar, synth and more into a hallucinatory and hazy sonic stew. While the EP’s first two tracks build into surging waves of noise, by the closing track “The Going Through,” many of those layers have been pulled back, exposing a sparse banjo that’s just as expressive as the tsunami of sound that came before it.
Fidelity Labs: Field Technician I
Compensation and Benefits: $17 - $21/hour. PTO / Paid Holidays (New Years Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after and Christmas/Christmas Eve) / Bereavement Pay / Full Health, Dental and Vision Premiums / Retirement Plan with 4% employer matching
Description: “Our Field Technicians drive to our client locations and collect cannabis and cannabis related samples that have been submitted for testing in compliance with state laws and the ISO 17025:2017 standard. This particular Field Technician will be servicing clients in Bozeman and Billings.”
Contact: Jay Rucinsky - Operations Manager / 406-830-6563
Spark1: Cultivation Technicians (2)
Compensation and Benefits: $18-22/hour based on experience, and paid health insurance after 90 days
Description: “Qualified individuals will possess commercial cannabis cultivation experience, weekend availability, and a positive attitude. Applicants will be able to correspond with the cultivation management team to ensure success in a commercial grow. There is currently one greenhouse position and one indoor position available. Please send resumes along with a cover letter highlighting the experiences that make you a good fit for the position.”
710 Montana: Budtenders and Growers
Further description: “Looking for all levels of experience in the Garden”
Contact: inquire in-person at any of the five shops, or send resume / questions to bozeman@710Montana.com
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks again for being here. If you read this newsletter and value it, consider subscribing.