LAKELAND – One of the state’s early entrants into cannabis testing is expected to expand with new employees and locations over the next year as part of the emerging cannabis industry in Polk County.
Modern Canna Laboratories of Lakeland has played a leading role in the rollout of testing for the medical marijuana industry in Florida, according to founder and CEO George A. Fernandez. He also believes not just his company but Polk County overall is well positioned to have a larger footprint in the cannabis industry statewide and potentially nationally.
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“I see Polk County being a great opportunity for the cannabis industry,” he said, pointing to its central location in the state and the land available here. “I think there is going to be a lot of growth in this space in Polk County,” he said.
Modern Canna Laboratories isn’t the only company expanding.
Metrc, LLC added two new executives last week drawing attention to the company that provides services nationwide to states from Colorado to Massachusetts. Metrc provides seed-to-sale regulatory tracking and tracing of products for medical and adult recreational use of cannabis products. VidaCann also opened a new dispensary for CBD and medical use marijuana products, adding to the local industry.
Testing cannabis: How Modern Canna got its start
At Modern Canna, Fernandez first started looking at testing cannabis products in 2012 and eventually incorporated a testing laboratory in 2014 when Florida laws first allowed low grade medical marijuana products to be sold. He said in a recent phone interview that Modern Canna, LLC currently has 14 employees and expects to add 50 people within a year at the company’s Beacon Road facility in Lakeland. He said another location in Gainesville is possible and more laboratories out of state could be coming to assist multi-state industry providers.
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His family has multi-generational experience in laboratory testing. His grandfather, originally from Cuba, came to the United States and set up a phosphate testing laboratory in the 1960s for Polk County for environmental soil and water tests.
Modern Canna evaluates cannabis using the ISO 17025 standard with many instruments for many different metrics. A few include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) potency, the presence of pesticides or heavy metals, residual solvents, and aroma, among many others, which are both required by state regulators or requested to be tested by industry clients.
“We wanted regulations to be as strict and stringent as possible,” said Fernandez. “We are responsible for deeming the product is safe for human consumption.”
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In order to qualify as a certified marijuana testing laboratory, Modern Canna had to follow stringent state regulations for security, surveillance, and building layout. The physical collection of samples requires two background-checked employees who are always present during collection and transportation of the samples, which must be sealed in a tamper-proof container.
Medical marijuana laws in Florida
Modern Canna is one of several testing centers in Florida. As defined by state statute, a testing lab is a facility that collects and analyzes marijuana samples from a medical marijuana treatment center and has received certification from the Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
Hemp and cannabis come from the Cannabis stiva plant. Legal hemp must contain 0.3 percent THC or less. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the “high” sensation.
Due to Florida’s climate medical marijuana is typically grown in greenhouses where watering and temperature can be controlled appropriately during the plants growing cycles.
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The OMMU handles the Department of Health’s rules for medical marijuana. In addition to certifying testing laboratories, the OMMU website lists 22 certified treatment centers, which have dispensaries throughout the state. The agency also maintains a use registry, issues license to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients.
As for tracking plants from seed to sale, Florida is currently in the process of selecting a vendor to provide a tracking and tracing program. Metrc is one of the bidders in the process.
A company spokesperson said Metrc is currently submitting paperwork to the state’s request for proposals but the state has not provided a timeline for selecting a vendor.
Still a decision could come in a few months, she said.
Paul Nutcher covers business and industry for The Ledger. He can be reached at email@example.com.