BOSTON – Marijuana regulators on Thursday approved two testing laboratories to inspect all non-medical marijuana sold in Massachusetts, bringing the state one step closer to the legal marijuana industry sanctioned by voters two years ago.

The Cannabis Control Commission has already issued final licenses to two retail marijuana stores, but all marijuana sold in Massachusetts must first be tested by an independent lab. Therefore, retail sales cannot begin until at least one lab has been given a final license and is allowed by the CCC to begin testing cannabis.

The CCC on Thursday unanimously approved CDX Analytics of Salem to act as an independent testing lab for the non-medical marijuana market and then approved MCR Labs of Framingham on a 4-1 vote after hearing about an incident last year in which an employee allegedly stole samples of marijuana from the lab, which already tests marijuana for the Department of Public Health's medical marijuana program.

Patrick Beyea, the CCC's director of investigations, told the commission that he asked the lab's owner about the incident during the facility's inspection and was told that it happened last year and that the employee in question was fired. Beyea said he could not discuss the particulars of the incident because the case is still pending in the court system.

"I can tell you that last year when the incident occurred, our regulations didn't exist. MCR Labs was not seeking licensure under the commission at that time, and I believe that our investigation process and licensing process really increases the security and prevents incidents like this."

Employees at testing labs are subjected to a more strict background check than employees of other marijuana businesses. For one, all lab employees must pass a fingerprint background check before being allowed to work with marijuana. All marijuana businesses, including testing labs, are also required to report any diversion of marijuana to the CCC.

"Our regulations also require very strict security requirements and since that incident occurred, MCR Labs has changed processes and has installed a great deal more security equipment inside the labs to prevent an incident like this happening again," Beyea said.

He added, "I'm very comfortable, based on the investigation done by my staff and I, that an incident like that will not occur again at MCR Labs."

At least four of the five commissioners agreed, and a final license for MCR Labs was approved by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan cast the dissenting vote but was not immediately available to explain her vote.

Also Thursday, the CCC voted to grant provisional licenses to three more retail shops -- in Uxbridge, Oxford and Great Barrington -- along with three marijuana cultivators -- in Webster, Pittsfield and Leicester -- and two product manufacturers.

Caroline's Cannabis was provisionally approved to sell retail marijuana out of a shop at 640 Douglas St. in Uxbridge, Curaleaf Massachusetts was approved to sell non-medical marijuana out of its existing medical dispensary at 425 Main St. in Oxford, and Theory Wellness was given provisional approval to sell non-medical marijuana at its medical dispensary at 394 Stockbridge Rd. in Great Barrington.

In total, the CCC on Thursday authorized up to an additional 210,000 square feet of cannabis cultivation. Commonwealth Cultivation was given a provisional license to grow up to 10,000 square feet of marijuana canopy at 74 Downing Parkway in Pittsfield, Curaleaf got a provisional license to grow up to 100,000 square feet of canopy at 30 Worcester Rd. in Webster and East Coast Organics was given an initial green light to grow up to 100,000 square feet at 88 Huntoon Memorial Highway in Leicester.

"The approval of our provisional license will allow us to begin the build out of our facility that we expect to have operational by the summer of 2019," East Coast Organics President Jane Eden said in a statement Thursday.

Curaleaf and East Coast Organics were both also granted provisional licenses to manufacture marijuana products -- like edibles, vaporizer cartridges and oils -- at their respective cultivations facilities.

So far, the CCC has approved two retailers for final licensure and has provisionally approved another 51 marijuana business establishments.

The CCC had hoped to launch the retail marijuana industry in Massachusetts by July 1 but did not meet that target. Since then, Hoffman has said only that consumers will be able to legally buy marijuana in "late summer/early fall." Voters approved the legalization of non-medical marijuana in November 2016 and it became legal in December 2016 to grow, possess and use marijuana.


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