Interview with Jill Brzezicki (Analytical testing labs)

  1. How did you get into the cannabis industry?

I became interested in testing cannabis while working as an applications chemist with a sensors lab in Ft. Collins, CO.  While there I was doing R&D on different applications for a hand-held device used for monitoring pH, conductivity, temperature and an array of other variables.  While on sales calls in California, there was a constant question of whether the device could measure THC, and after multiple iterations of that question being posed my business partner and I decided to start a mobile testing company using an SRI model GC in 2011 called Colorado Mobile Testing.

  1. How has the testing industry changed over the years?

I’ve witnessed the testing industry change and continue to change dramatically year to year.  When Colorado Mobile Testing was founded, testing was not required by law and there were only two other cannabis testing laboratories in the state.  Servicing only the medical market with no mandate to test was a difficult challenge and educating the cultivators and store owners became my mission.  In the early days, we were only testing potency and no one believed us, so I literally took the GC into the grows and would do the extraction and test right there, nothing to hide, explaining each step as I went.  The growers gradually became trusting of me, and my ability to analyze their weed but they were still wary about paying for such information.  Once the recreational market hit, they had no choice and that’s where things began to change at warp speed for the testing industry as a whole.  We were finally going to be regulated by an outside state agency and audited annually so that the methodology being used could be trusted by the industry.  CMT laboratories was founded in 2013 and a brick and mortar storefront followed.  Testing requirements and corresponding audits and certifications gradually increased to what we see today including residual solvents, microbial and mold, pesticides and heavy metals analysis on flower, concentrate and edible products.

  1. You use to own CMT laboratories and then sold it late 2016, why did you sell and was that a good idea looking back?

Our primary reason for selling CMT Laboratories was twofold, the main reason being that one of our owners developed brain cancer in our second year of operation. Micahael was the owner who intended to continue operations after the lab was running successfully for multiple years.  I regret to write that we lost Michael not long after the sale of the business and that his input and co-creation of the laboratory will never be forgotten.  The second reason for selling was the increased regulatory platform, specifically around pesticide analysis.  There was great concern at the time around the extraction procedure extracting terpenes and cannabinoids alongside the pesticides.False positive pesticide results were being reported in Colorado and grows were losing massive amounts of product with no recourse at all due to the fact that when analyzed, certain terpenes would co-elute with certain pesticides and then be miss identified as pesticides.  The liability of reporting false positives combined with the non-existent toxicology data on the effects of inhaled pesticide residue (especially in concentrates) and overall cost of this analysis were all variables leading to the sale of the business.  Looking back, I think we sold at a good time and were able to lead the state of Colorado and the country in good analytical methodology for the analysis of cannabis.

  1. Do you have a female mentor?

I have many, my mom being my biggest mentor.  She has shown me that with persistence, effort, intention, compassion, integrity, kindness and patience anything is possible.

  1. What is it like to be a woman in science?

Early on it was difficult, I received my bachelor’s degreein Chemistry from the University of Dayton in 1993 and was lucky enough to land a job right out of school as an analytical chemist at an environmental lab in Steamboat Springs, CO.  I was required to prove myself time and again to my male colleagues who I knew made more than me for often times doing much less.  I was hyper eager to learn and to prove that I could handle the tasks that were asked of me while also understanding that I had to put in my time and work my way up the ladder.  I was motivated to continue my education after working in the “real world” for seven years as an environmental chemist and returned to the drawing board at Colorado State University in 2000 where I obtained my master’s degree in Toxicology in 2002.  Founding and running CMT Laboratories was a real blessing for me, it allowed me to finally be able to stop having to prove myself to anyone, to build my own creation utilizing integrity and gender equality while integrating the analytical skills that I’d been taught throughout my life. To bring good analytical science to a brand-new industry and feel confident in the way that I executed it has been one of the greatest achievements of my life.

  1. What is different about other industries you have worked in and the cannabis industry?

Hands down, the people!  I love the people in this industry, don’t get me wrong, there will always be the bad apple(s), but overall the people in this industry are what make it so amazing to me.  People caring, genuinely caring about the health of others through the plant is what still holds me in the industry.  The medicinal benefits of CBD and THC and all of the other parts we continue to unfold fascinate me as a chemist, as a toxicologist, as a human.

  1. What has been the hardest part about the testing industry and how can it get better?

I think one of the hardest parts of the testing industry is variability and lack of standardization.  I believe that there should be more standarazation of the methodologies being utilized in the laboratories to limit the variability seen between testing facilities.

  1. Cannabis companies are still complaining about analytical labs and results. Why is this continuing to happen?

I don’t think they trust the testing labs and I think they feel stuck because they are mandated to do this testing with people they don’t trust.   My advice to anyone who is testing is to ask questions, take a tour of the lab, have the lab director sit down with you and explain the results, explain the test.  If your testing company is not transparent with you, or annoyed that you want to know more about your results, then you are with the wrong company.  There are many people out there starting labs and not all of them are doing good science, the ones that are will show you and explain to you what they are doing.

  1. If you could go back what would you have done differently?

I don’t think I would have done anything differently, I learned a lot in a very short period of time and watched the industry expand in ways I never knew it could or would.  I feel very grateful to be one of the pioneers.

  1. Have you ever experienced discrimination being a woman in science?

Yes, and as I mentioned earlier in the interview, I’ve overcome it with tenacity and grit.

  1. Do you find camaraderie with women in this industry?

Yes, I don’t feel the competitive edge with most women in the industry but more so a solidarity and shared passion.

  1. What can women do differently to help women advance their careers in science?

I believe it’s important for women to hire and advocate for women in the industry.

  1. If you could predict the future what do you think testing will look like?

I see the regulations getting the better of the industry, especially in CA and OR and I’m hoping that there can be some middle ground to accomplish public safety, regulation and businesses to all exist.

  1. It is clear that we need more science regarding this plant.  If you could do a study right now what would it be?

I’m fascinated with the medicinal properties of CBD and THC and their influence on epilepsy, so I would likely research that area.

  1. What are the first steps you would recommend to a women/man in order to get more information about the industry?

The industry is so vast that I think it’s important for anyone new coming in to pick an area of interest and investigate it with full vigor.  Talk to the people in your field of interest, as I mentioned earlier, the people are my favorite part of this industry.  Read as much as you can, watch videos, ask questions, really dive in, there’s a lot to learn and experience in this industry!

16.Do you feel science is the driving force for acceptance and legalization in the cannabis industry?

I believe good science will be the driving force for acceptance, as for legalization, I don’t believe we will see a change there until pharma has a firm grasp on their profits.

  1. Is there anything else you would like to add that you feel is important for people to know about the testing industry?

I think it’s important for people to remember that this is still a new industry and that we are paving the way for what it will become.Now is the time to deliver the best science possible with the utmost integrity.