Shutdown of Natchez cannabis testing lab based on anonymous tip forces closure of about 70 percent of state’s dispensaries

Published 11:52 am Tuesday, December 26, 2023

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi State Department of Health has shut down the operations of a Natchez cannabis testing facility — one of only two in the state — based on an anonymous tip.

Natchez resident Mamie Henry, whose company, Missla LLC, is majority owner of Rapid Analytics of 131 Jeff Davis Blvd. Suite C, said the company received an email from the state department that oversees medical marijuana on Wednesday of last week, telling them to “cease and desist” operations.

In addition, none of the medical dispensaries whose cannabis was tested by Rapid Analytics of Natchez can sell any of those products.

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After receiving the email from the state official, Henry said, “I called everybody I possibly could and finally got someone on the phone and was told that the state received an anonymous tip that we weren’t testing properly.”

A statement on the Mississippi State Department of Health website dated Dec. 21 does not mention Rapid Analytics, but reads the an administrative hold has been placed on “a large number of medical cannabis products until retesting can be conducted to ensure that various products meet regulatory standards. The Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program is taking swift action to address the situation, with retesting being done as quickly as possible.”

Henry said 70 percent of all of the cannabis products sold in Mississippi are tested by Rapid Analytics.

“They sent out a notice to all dispensaries and manufacturers telling them that all of the products tested by our lab are all quarantined,” Henry said. “That has put these people out of business. There are a lot of mom and pop dispensaries who won’t survive this.”

On Nov. 18, 2022, the state gave its approval to Rapid Analytics here as a cannabis testing facility. Dr. Jeff Keller, Ph.D., is the company’s founder and was majority owner. Henry’s company has since bought majority ownership in the Rapid Analytics, but Keller is still a partner and minority owner, she said.

Keller is also the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Pennington Biomedical in Baton Rouge. He continues to direct all scientific operations at Rapid Analytics. Henry’s company manages the business operations of the facility, she said.

“We had a meeting with them (state officials) on Wednesday after we received the email, and they told us the way we were reporting the testing of pesticides is different than what we said we were going to do when we got our license,” Henry said “Our scientists explained how we are doing it is much more detailed because we don’t want to just be accredited by the state, but we want to be federally accredited, and this is what is required for federal accreditation.

“In the meantime, we have heard nothing from them since Wednesday. They are corresponding with all of the growers and sellers who do business with us, but are not copying us,” she said.

As for disturbing, Henry said, is the state has now contracted with Rapid Analytics’ only competitor in the state — Steep Hill Mississippi of Jackson — to test products from companies currently doing business with Rapid Analytics.

“What are they testing? We have offered to get to them the samples we have from the products we tested, but they have not responded to that. They would test those samples for free. But instead, they are paying our competitor to test, but they aren’t retesting the samples that we have already tested. That’s not an apples to apples comparison,” Henry said.

“We just had a week-long audit by the state in August and passed it with flying colors. We are not doing anything differently now than we were doing then,” she said. “This is a fragile industry. It’s just starting up in Mississippi, and they make a knee-jerk decision to shut us down without anything other than an anonymous tip? Our lab still has its samples on everything we have tested and we have been retesting everything since Wednesday. Meanwhile, the state is not communicating with us, but is working with and paying out only competitor in the state.

“We have urged the state to meet with us, but they have told us the earliest opportunity for that is 3 p.m. on Thursday. In the meantime, they are speaking to everyone in the industry, except us — all based on an anonymous tip,” Henry said.

No one answered the phone at the contact number for the State Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program. A recording said the office was closed late Tuesday morning.