Starting a Cannabis Lab in 2021

Starting a Cannabis Lab in 2021

Disclaimer Note: The content in this guide is just for informational purposes ONLY. We ARE NOT licensed, certified, or a party/entity to provide any of the legal components needed to be in place for cannabis laboratories. Please refer to your state’s current policies and procedures in place to properly to start a cannabis lab. 

As lab builders, we are experts when it comes to creating efficient layouts and custom furniture for demanding research and testing environments.


  • Understanding Legality
  • Recruiting Talent
  • Supply Chain of the Cannabis Industry
  • Cannabis Industry Lab Equipment
  • Building an Appropriate Lab Space

As the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana spreads across the country, the cannabis industry continues to grow as a result. It is projected that marijuana sales will reach and exceed $20 billion by 2023.

Marijuana use is becoming more and more acceptable in the eyes of the general population across the country, making now the opportune time to enter into the industry. Whether you are looking to stake your claim in this expanding business, have a strong desire to create better medicine alternatives for those in need, or are interested in creating new and interesting strains of cannabis, a top-notch cannabis lab will be crucial to achieving your goals.

How to Build a Cannabis Lab

Building a cannabis lab from the ground up is not something that can be accomplished overnight. There are many aspects you will need to consider before getting started.

Some of these details include following various legal regulations and standards, recruiting talented professionals to work in your lab, and even finding a credible cannabis lab bench dealer to help you equip your lab.

It is absolutely essential to do your research in order to fully understand everything required before you begin designing your lab. Having an airtight plan in place will allow you to move forward with confidence and create a successful and high-quality cannabis lab of your own.

1. Understanding Legality

The legalities of starting a cannabis lab can vary greatly from state to state. Because the use of medical and recreational marijuana is not yet legal everywhere in the United States, there is currently a lack of comprehensive federal standards in place.

Instead, the regulatory requirements and accreditation you will need to understand and abide by are determined by the state your lab resides in. You will find that some states have many more regulations to adhere to than others.

Local regulations might also be in play depending on your location. Here are just a few possible requirements you may need to meet:

  • Obtain and maintain ISO/IEC accreditation: Specifies the testing and calibration requirements.
  • State cannabis licenses (for example, California uses Type 8): Ensures all cannabis is tested before being sent to dispensaries. Most jurisdictions require local licensing before the state level.
  • Local and state air quality, odor abatement, chemical exposure, ventilation, and Heat Output are all HVAC concerns. Additionally, fire codes must be applied in all cases.
  • Quality control/quality assurance (QC/QA) programs: Having QC and QA programs in place is essential for quality management.
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): These documents describe the activities necessary to complete tasks in accordance with industry regulations and laws.

The cannabis industry will grow and evolve, causing the regulations and standards to change frequently. Be sure to stay up to date on possible changes or updates happening in your location.

For more information, please refer to the Guidance for State Medical Cannabis Testing Programs.

2. Recruiting Talent

Finding passionate and qualified candidates can be challenging, regardless of the type of field you are hiring within. This is especially true when requiring personnel with specific scientific knowledge.

Below are a few tips for recruiting talented professionals to work in your cannabis lab:

  1. Experience Counts – One of the biggest challenges you may face when searching for qualified candidates is the lack of cannabis-specific testing experience. Because the industry is fairly new, many candidates may not have years of experience in this specific field. If you come across this roadblock, try focusing on candidates that have experience using the specific instruments and equipment they would be using in your cannabis lab.
  2. Compensation – Currently, demand in the cannabis industry is higher than the supply. This brings with it the assumption that jobs associated with cannabis most likely come with higher compensation than other industries. However, because of the infancy of this industry, most companies are in the startup stage and can’t always afford higher compensation. The science professionals that fit your lab’s needs might already be working for other reputable companies and will require an attractive offer before joining your team. In this case, acquiring a compensation analysis is extremely helpful.
  3. Flexibility – Don’t underestimate the importance to find individuals who are flexible and enjoy the challenge of working in an ever-changing industry. There is no doubt that the cannabis industry is growing quickly, but it is important to remember it is still a young industry. As more states legalize marijuana use, guidelines and regulations will evolve. Federal laws and regulations will also eventually come into play. Testing requirements will change and evolve as the industry grows, and the technicians in charge of this testing will need to evolve with them.

For more tips and guidelines, check out this informative podcast episode where host Jenel Stelton-Holtmeier from Marijuana Business Daily dives into challenging aspects of recruitment in the cannabis industry.

3. Supply Chain of the Cannabis Industry

Here are some examples of how different steps in the supply chain utilize in-house cannabis labs:

  • Growers: By testing crops, cannabis cultivators are able to ensure their yields are free of residual solvents like pesticides, as well as fungus and mold.
  • Distributors: To guard against making false claims, distributors need lab testing to verify cannabinoid classification, DNA strain, and potency.
  • Regulators: There’s also been a sharp spike in new independent labs as a result of the demand, putting a premium on efficiency throughout the industry.

Residual solvents are a class or processing chemicals typically used for extraction and post-processing (oils/concentrates), for example, USP 467 is typically followed as a compliant testing procedure- where solvents are in Classes 1-3.  Where Class 1 is the most toxic based on PDE-permissible daily exposure, no one wants benzene or toluene in their smokable products!

Pesticides are separate contaminants typically used to fend off pests, inhibit disease, etc.  Most states have a variable list and set cutoff limits.

Pesticides can be taken up by the plant (soil, water). Before clones or seeds are put in the ground, particularly for outdoor grow operations, the soil, water, and surrounding area need to be assessed for pesticides, and mitigation action should be taken if tests come up positive.

California has a list of 66 pesticides at extremely low action limits. Canada has a list of 96 pesticides. Other states like CO have 17.

Pesticide requirements vary all over the map. California adopted much of the limits on chemicals from the tobacco industry. It sets unreasonable expectations on labs and is why equipment has to be the latest and greatest – buying used gear doesn’t work in this market.

Fungus and testing mold: Microbial testing usually consists of four species of Aspergillus mold, E Coli, and Salmonella.  Again, knowing the species of mold is critical here. This is why qPCR methods over plating is the way to go.

4. Cannabis Industry Lab Equipment

The cannabis industry relies on state-of-the-art equipment capable of handling the complex, unique science of marijuana testing. Here are the most common instruments you’ll see in modern cannabis testing centers:

  • Gas Chromatography (GC): The GC specializes determines cannabinoid classifications and THC potency. It also detects the presence of residual solvents.
  • Liquid Chromatography (HPLC): The HPLC specializes in potency readings, capable of measuring levels of THC, THCA, CBD, CDBA, and CBN.
  • Mass Spectrometry (MS): Capable of detecting toxins like pesticides and other chemicals commonly used in the legal cannabis trade.

5. Building an Appropriate Lab Space

After diving into all the legal requirements and building regulations that are associated with starting a cannabis lab, you will start to realize you can’t set up just anywhere. It is important to furnish your lab space with the proper instruments and equipment necessary to comply with state laws and environmental regulations, as well as provide a safe environment for your employees.

You will want to consider the following essential areas as you start designing your lab:

  • Working Areas: High-quality furniture such as laboratory workbenches and tables
  • Ventilation: Fume Hoods
  • Storage: Odor-containing storage including lab cabinets and casework.
  • Safety: Eyewash stations, emergency showers, and flammable gas alarm systems that comply with your local Fire Department regulations.
  • Distribution: If your business also handles some aspect of distribution, consider additional space and budget for packing stations that can offer flexibility and storage to handle product and carry out packaging and shipment

Cannabis Testing Lab Design and Furniture Solutions

Because Cannabis is also such a new industry, traditional lab designs may not fit the needs of your testing lab. It’s important to find a reputable cannabis lab furniture dealer that will meet all of your needs and go above and beyond to ensure you are set up for success.

For more than a decade, we are the leading custom lab furniture supplier and manufacturer of industrial workbenches in the country. We don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all model, and we value the relationship we build with each and every client.

Call (866) 612-7312 to get in touch today to learn more about our cannabis laboratory furniture solutions. We offer complimentary designs, 3D drawings, and quote estimate every order.


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