On August 22nd Bia Diagnostics celebrated the grand opening of their new full service lab for cannabis and hemp testing. Located in Colchester, the new lab is pristine and humming with new equipment. VBSA recently caught up with Thom and Robin Grace, co-owners of Bia Diagnostics, and Carly Barone, Laboratory Scientist, who heads up the new lab, to ask about the story behind the opening.
Bia Diagnostics first began contemplating cannabis testing several years ago after a conversation with university colleagues who run a dispensary. That conversation raised the question: could technology from food analysis be applied to cannabis? While Bia pondered the possibilities, deregulation of hemp and cannabis progressed. Notably, regulators set a standard that THC must be below 0.3% to legally sell a cannabis product, creating a clear need for reliable testing.
About a year ago Bia Diagnostics began serious research into cannabis testing. They talked to regulators in DC and by winter of 2019 decided to invest in a whole new lab dedicated to cannabis testing. The lab handles a thorough list of tests for THC and CBD, residual solvents from extraction processes, terpenes, and contaminants like heavy metals, mycotoxins, pesticides, and even microbes. In keeping with the greater mission of the company, their goal for the cannabis lab is to provide consumers and producers with the best information so they can make the safest products possible.
A big part of Bia Diagnostics' motivation for opening the lab has been their vision of contributing as an asset to the Vermont artisanal economy. Vermont is increasingly known for its quality artisanal products, especially consumables like craft beer or small batch dairy. With the right analytical tools to guarantee quality, Vermont can add artisanal cannabis products to its roster of fine foods. Thom and Robin were very explicit that they see Bia Diagnostics' investment in a brand new lab with brand new equipment as "investing in Vermont."
When I asked about the challenges they've faced in setting up the new lab Thom jokingly exclaimed, "infinite!". Yet it's clearly the challenge that has excited Bia Diagnostics. They wanted to be a part of the solution to the challenges faced by this young and growing consumables market. Carly added that cannabis testing is new for absolutely everyone, so while the state of Vermont has been a great resource, the regulators are figuring things out as they go. Even growers don't know what they need. Many have never dealt with analytical data before and are looking to Bia Diagnostics for guidance.
The challenge of so many unanswered questions is an opportunity for Bia Diagnostics to contribute new knowledge. What is the best way to provide quality information to growers? What types of samples need to be analyzed? How should they be handled to provide reliable and accurate data? Already Carly has been honored with an award for her research into the location of terpenes in cannabis plants.
Even though the cannabis lab has only been open for business for two months, they've been very busy with a backlog of samples. The lab is also under pressure to move fast. Growers need to know when to harvest for optimal levels of THC versus CBD - they want THC as low as possible while CBD is as high as possible. They need the results from their samples to determine that optimal window, so the turnaround time on results must be on the scale of days, not weeks.
As busy as they are, Bia Diagnostics is already looking to the future for the cannabis lab. On the horizon for next year, they may add genetic testing to verify seed batches that should be exclusively male or female and to check genetic signatures for specific hybrids.
While it may be early days for the Vermont cannabis market, with their new full service cannabis and hemp testing lab, Bia Diagnostics is working hard to answer critical questions and provide the analytical tools that regulators and growers will need to ensure high quality products for consumers.