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Testing pot in a legal vacuum

Few standards apply to quality of marijuana, because the federal government considers all use illegal.

February 12, 2012|By Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times

"I'm very cautious about this," he said. "There is huge risk here, to my career, to my personal reputation, my financial situation, the possibility of incarceration."

Raber and an unnamed investor brought in $350,000 worth of equipment — a gas chromatograph, centrifuge, high-pressure liquid chromatograph, mass spectrometer, analytical balances, computers. He hired a Dutch scientist who worked at a marijuana lab in the Netherlands.

They are hoping L.A. starts enforcing its ordinance and are working on a new test for more than 50 pesticides. Raber charges $50 for each of four tests that can be performed on a sample, and his dispensaries usually have between five and 20 samples tested at a time.

Raber, 36, was never a pot crusader and said he never even smoked it in college or graduate school. "I'm an entrepreneur," he said. "I started this, thinking this was all about to go somewhere."

But it has been a surreal form of entrepreneurship. A widespread interpretation of California's hazy marijuana guidelines is that anyone who touches the medicine has to be a patient (or a patient's primary caregiver). Basically, every lab owner, technician, courier, grower, trimmer, dispensary cashier and intake clerk must claim to be "a seriously ill Californian" requiring marijuana for treatment.

Raber said he found marijuana helps his spastic colon. He can get samples only as a patient, and since every dispensary acts nominally as a "collective" of patients, he's been a member of every one he's worked with, about 200.

In the laboratory on a recent afternoon, his younger brother, Mark, 33, prepared the sample of Ghost for the potency test.

He placed the 200 milligrams in a vial and poured in a solution that would pull the cannabinoids out. He set the vial on a vortex to further shake the compounds out, then pipetted two milliliters into a smaller vial, which was spun in a centrifuge. From that, he transferred 600 microliters into an auto-sampler vial.

Mark Raber walked his samples over to the high-pressure liquid chromatograph, loaded them into a tray and pressed a button. Inside, a mechanical needle descended to take one microliter from the first sample and spray it through a column that separated the chemicals based on their affinity to various particles inside it.

After several hours, which included some number crunching, Raber had his stats for Ghost: 18.48% THC / 0.35 CBD.

Enough to get you stoned.

joe.mozingo@latimes.com

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