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Merso Labs, 'gatekeeper' for the cannabis industry, pivots to COVID-19 testing
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Flower to the People

Merso Labs, 'gatekeeper' for the cannabis industry, pivots to COVID-19 testing

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Dispensaries may be considered the face of the cannabis industry given their daily interaction with the public, however an entity less visible but arguably the most important part of the supply chain remains hard at work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cannabis testing laboratories such as Merso Labs in Lompoc are accredited and regulated by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) under a Type 8 license, which allows them to test cannabis products before they reach dispensaries to be sold to consumers. 

About the same time Merso Labs began offering its specialized services to the local community, COVID-19 hit.

“At first, I didn’t think the coronavirus would have much impact, that it would pass,” said Kaleb Asfaha, CEO of Merso Labs.

After some time, however, he began to think differently about the coronavirus. 

“It didn’t happen immediately, but after awhile I started to notice that the people that I would see daily, who would pass by walking their dogs or were just out in the community — I didn’t see people out like before.”

So, Asfaha took action.

With permission from state and local officials, and through a coordinated effort with the city of Lompoc, Merso Labs on Dec. 24 began offering COVID-19 testing at the Dick DeWees Community Center every Thursday through the end of January. 

“Dr. Kali Freeman from Lompoc Valley Medical Center was instrumental in getting Merso testing set up," Asfaha noted.

According to Asfaha, Merso Labs is equipped with sophisticated cutting-edge technology and machines like the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which is requisite to perform COVID-19 testing.

Asfaha said of the 35 licensed cannabis testing laboratories throughout the state, Merso Labs has been the only laboratory to offer COVID-19 testing to the public.

“If cannabis wasn’t here, the COVID-19 testing services wouldn’t here," he said. "Until we set it up, there was no other open clinic for the public. For me, it was important to have a local clinic without appointments available to anyone in the community."

On the other hand, cannabis labs like Merso are primarily meant to hold accountable the industry's supply chain — which spans the planting of seeds on a farm to the purchase and consumption of cannabis goods from a dispensary — and safeguard the consumer by ensuring a clean and safe product with the backing of science. 

“We are the gatekeepers who bring scientific legitimacy to this industry,” said Asfaha, a graduate chemist from UC Berkeley who specializes in mass spectrometer-based science.

Analytical testing services conducted by Merso Labs screen cannabis products to identify impurities such as pesticides, residual solvents, heavy metals, filth and foreign materials, microbial contamination and a variety of other material.

An appeal of a denial by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission of a greenhouse near Solvang went unresolved Tuesday when the project was sent back to staff for an analysis of blackout curtains' effectiveness at blocking light at night.

According to the company's website, Merso Labs incorporates the latest scientific innovations in mass spectrometry-based analysis, DNA-based biological analysis and provides a variety of research and compliance services. The lab also offers digital agricultural services such as monitoring environmental data and soil analytics for all crop farming.

Merso is the only such laboratory on the coast between Los Angeles and Monterey Counties that offers these services to the cannabis industry. It's also one of 35 BCC licensed testing laboratories in the entire state, despite Santa Barbara County having a high number of cannabis cultivation licenses, second only to Humboldt County. 

Asfaha saw an opportunity to offer much-needed services to the Central Coast and began accepting clients in January 2020.

“I left a high-paying Silicone Valley job to come to Lompoc,” Asfaha said, noting that he applies the same scientific techniques learned at Berkeley to the budding local industry. “I wanted to bring credibility [to the cannabis industry] as a scientist. I had the desire and Lompoc presented the opportunity to succeed. The mayor and council wanted our services and welcomed us.”

To that I say, more flower to the people!

Monthly columnist Joe A. Garcia is a Lompoc resident who founded the Lompoc Valley Cannabis Coalition and works in the county's cannabis industry. He can be reached at FlowerToThePeople805@gmail.com or follow on Facebook @FlowerToThePeople805

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