Puyallup Tribe: Testing the waters

Aaron Stancik

Puyallup Tribe joins cannabis industry with quality assurance lab

By Garrett Rudolph

Not all tribes looking to invest in the cannabis industry are focused on cultivation and retail. Some, like the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, are seizing the opportunity to become ancillary service providers.

The Puyallup Tribe recently opened the doors of Medicine Creek Analytics, the first tribe-owned cannabis testing facility in the country. The Fife, Washington lab shares the same building as the tribe’s Salish Cancer Center.

At the time of this writing, the company was in the final stages of receiving its state certification to service the licensed cannabis market, Medicine Creek scientific director Aaron Stancik said. A compact with the state, similar to those established for tribe-owned retail stores Elevation and Agate Dreams, was finalized in January.

In addition to being the first analytics company of its kind in the country, Medicine Creek has unwittingly stepped into the middle of multiple lab-related controversies within the cannabis industry.

Dozens of growers in Colorado and Washington have been penalized for using banned chemicals, highlighting the need for more advanced quality assurance protocols. Meanwhile, several labs in Washington have been accused of doctoring test results to gain favor among producers and processors.

Stancik has been an outspoken proponent of quality control standardization and pesticide testing since the state’s recreational market opened.

“There’s sort of a vacuum there, and I think the tribe saw the opportunity to step up and be that group that really brings standardization to the testing industry,” said Stancik, who has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Idaho.

The Puyallup Tribe has the financial resources to “do things right,” according to Stancik.

“They’re sparing no expense. Profitability isn’t the only goal.”

Medicine Creek Analytics has been outfitted with top-of-the-line Shimadzu equipment to perform pesticide testing that most state-approved labs don’t have the proper equipment to conduct.

Not only has the company made a jaw-dropping investment in equipment, but it also assembled a top-notch scientific team that includes Kyle Shelton, a pesticide chemist with years of experience in the tobacco industry, and Jeremy Riggle, a chemistry professor at Eastern Oregon University. Daniel Duenas Jr. is the executive director for all cannabis operations for the Puyallup Tribe.

Medicine Creek will eventually set up a courier service to reach clients throughout the region, Stancik said.

While the testing sector of the cannabis industry remains in flux, Stancik emphasized that growing pains are bound to happen as states establish the regulatory framework of legal cannabis. After all, the black market has existed for decades, while the legal, regulated market has been in place since 2014.

“There was no testing for those previous 75 years,” Stancik said. “I think we’ve come a long way in the last two years. We’re creating a new industry and there’s going to be some hiccups along the way.

“We’re trying to do things the right way here in Washington. We have quality assurance, but there are some holes that need to be filled. … I think in five years, when we look back, the industry is going to be in a good place, and hopefully the standardization of lab testing is in a good spot.”

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