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Washington Marijuana lab suspends operations

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One of Washington state’s labs certified for testing pot has suspended operations after its owner fired the lab’s science director, accusing him of falsifying results.

In a letter to customers, Larry Ward, owner and CEO of Testing Technologies in Poulsbo, alleged that tests for microbial matter were flawed and inaccurate and potency values appear to be “pulled out of thin air.” He blamed Dustin Newman, whom he said he fired Feb. 10.

 But Newman sent out his own email to customers Monday, disputing Ward’s account. Newman said his firing was really over division of equity and the future growth of the company. Newman owned a 25 percent stake in Testing Technologies, according to both him and Ward. “Mr. Ward’s efforts to blame it on audits or questionable results is merely a cover-up and disingenuous,” Newman wrote.

The dispute underscores questions of integrity among the 12 state-certified labs, first raised by an analysis that found some labs had more business-friendly results in a review of public data from the third quarter of 2015.

The analysis by Jim MacRae, a Woodinville data scientist, found that four labs failed no tests for microbes such as E.coli and mold, while two labs failed 44 percent, a result that defied statistical logic, MacRae and some lab experts said.

MacRae kept the identity of labs blinded in his analysis, saying he wanted to call attention to the issues without naming and hurting individual labs.

In an interview Monday, MacRae said Testing Technologies had the most business-friendly ranking in his analysis.

MacRae, who has applied for pot-store licenses, argues that accurate lab tests are crucial to legalization of recreational marijuana because safety and quality assurance is a chief advantage legal pot merchants have over illegal dealers.

Both Newman and Ward called MacRae’s work “good.” Beyond that, what happened at Testing Technologies is a matter of conflicting reports with misbehavior alleged by both sides.

Ward said he found evidence that some data appeared to be altered by Newman. Once he fired Newman, he had to suspend lab operations because state rules require that every lab have a qualified chief science officer. Auditors hired by the state next week will review Testing Technologies to see if it merits certification.

 Newman’s email to customers said testing results were “accurate and reproducible.” Potency values were never inflated by the lab, he said. He blamed unusually high results on growers who, in confusion, submitted samples that included kief, or concentrated resin.

Testing Technologies has failed samples for microbial matter, he said, just not in the three-month window studied by MacRae.

Newman said the real conflict with Ward arose when he suggested they should evenly share company ownership. Ward’s account differs.

Mary Ellen Sarylan, who was senior scientist at Testing Technologies, said she resigned after Newman was fired “because of the integrity of the business owner.” She worked with Newman for about a year and attested to his “stellar integrity.” She and another employee wrote state regulators after Newman’s firing, saying Ward asked them to conduct scientific tasks they weren’t qualified to handle.

 Ward blamed his profit-sharing with Newman for problems, saying it provided an incentive to produce business-friendly results. Testing Technologies was handling more than 2,500 samples a month at peak business, he said, which made it the second-busiest lab in the state.

In the future, he said, he would hire a contractor to be chief scientist in order to remove any financial incentive for fudging results.

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