NELSONVILLE — Thursday, community members, Hocking College staff and others gathered for the long awaited celebration of the opening of the Cannabis Medical Testing Laboratory at Hocking College.
The college announced on Sep. 5, 2017, it was applying as one of the first colleges or universities to serve as a testing laboratory site for Ohio’s medical cannabis law. While additionally announcing it had submitted initial documents for approval to the Ohio Department of Higher Education for a laboratory science curriculum the college intends to launch with introduction courses starting the second half of spring semester 2019.
Passed in 2016, the state’s medical cannabis — or medical marijuana — law mandates a state college or university test cannabis products before they are sold to patients.
Hocking College President Betty Young said the college’s decision to apply as a testing laboratory site “was not based on the merits or lack of merits regarding cannabis” but rather to “fulfill the legislative mandate contained in HB 523 that specifically requires an institute of higher education serve as the lab testing site.”
The purpose of this testing lab is to monitor the safety and quality of cultivators’ and processors’ products, whether they are in the form of a flower or oil. The laboratory will look out for signs of pesticides, mold and other fungi in the products, as well as the products’ potency.
“To be honest with you it’s an analytical chemistry program the students will be able to work in this field. They’ll be able to work in other medical fields; they may choose to work in the cannabis industry in another role outside of the lab role so there will be a lot of opportunities for the students who want to come through a program like this” stated Young.
On July 3, 2018, the college was awarded a provisional license for a Cannabis Medical Testing Laboratory, which paves the way for a new degree-producing cannabis study program for students, Young noted.
The license was received from the Ohio Department of Commerce and is the first step before a certificate of operation for a cannabis testing lab facility. It will be operated and managed by Jonathan CaChat, director of laboratory science and undergraduate research for the college.
CaChat is an Ohio native who is a social neuroscientist who specialized in behavioral psychopharmacology — understanding the interplay between psychoactive compounds, human behavior and social policy.
During the initial press conference of this project, CaChat explained he got involved with the medical cannabis industry when he worked for the University of California at San Diego and Davis. When he returned to Ohio to work on the development of instituting medical cannabis here, he noticed several roadblocks, one of which was the lack of willing college and university applications as testing lab sites.
Much of his message during the conference included the goal of dispelling the negative stigma surrounding cannabis, which he said is “plagued” with misinformation.
“Cannabis is a plant, not a pill — not a gateway drug,” he said. “We are all one step away from someone who could benefit from medical cannabis — someone who has cancer, someone who has a neurodegenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.”
During Thursday’s open house, the dream of many who have worked on this project together finally became a reality.
“We’re really hopeful that the growers and those that are involved in this industry will really want to use Hocking College’s lab — not just for the fact that we can do a great job and we’ve got a Ph. D in in psychopharmacology over here with us who really knows what he’s doing and knows this industry — but also because we are a public institution of higher education and there’s more to our work here than just doing processing for profit,” Young added.
The current building the lab is in was deteriorating and community members are glad to see it put back to use. The front portion of the building will be used for carpentry students and an HVAC lab.
Security footage in the lab is HD and has a direct line to the Hocking College Police Department. To open any door within the lab, a code is required by staff, including the gate before the main door of the lab.
“Studies have shown, when dispensaries and when labs like this go in, the amount of security and security staff actually makes the area generally more secure than what you would find in just a regular manufacturing building,” Dr. CaChat explained.
The first class will be intro to lab sciences the second half of spring semester this academic year, which CaChat has capped the class at 100 and the labs between 25 and 50 students — he noted the interest is everywhere.
The college is expecting to get the certificate of operation within the next day or two and hired four lab employees already.
Nancy Wells was hired the first week of December and said after earning her masters she wanted to go into pharmaceutical research but wanted more control — she found this to be the perfect position for her.
“Also, as for personal beliefs I really believe in alternative medicines like essential oils. I wanted to go down that path of being in the industry and being new,” Wells noted. “Career wise it’s a smart move to develop those skills and I like the teaching aspect that Hocking has.”
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Grace Warner is a reporter for The Logan Daily News