If you are a medical marijuana patient in Michigan and want to check your cannabis for the presence of molds or other impurities, one option would be to send it to a marijuana testing lab. The facilities are also used by dispensaries and connoisseurs to find plants with a particular flavor, potency or effect.
Iron Laboratories, based in Walled Lake, is one of a handful of these companies located in the Great Lakes State. Joseph Rutkowski, who works as a chemist with the company, has a passion for science and a very distinctive sense of style. Although he currently lives in Ferndale, he can frequently be found hanging out in Detroit -- decked out with a cape, a cane and a very fancy mustache.
The Huffington Post caught up with Rutkowski to find out more about the marijuana testing industry, his transformation from a welder into a "cannascientist," and, of course, his advice for aspiring fashion mavens.
HuffPost Detroit: What do you do?
Joseph Rutkowski: I'm a chemist. I work for Iron Laboratories. We test medical marijuana for potency and purity. We do it for the majority of the dispensaries in the southern part of the state. We're reaching out further and further every day. We test cannabinoids, terpenoids and for pesticides in the plant, the concentrates and the edible products being produced in the state.
Could you break that down into English for folks who aren't chemists?
Basically there are flavor components in marijuana that also have medicinal benefits. A lot of plants also produce these things. They're what give other aromas their intoxicating effects. In this industry they actually have synergistic benefits with cannabinoids -- that means they work well together.
The cannabinoids are the drug compounds that give the drug its effects. We measure those so that we can label them for the producers and the sellers to distribute their products in accordance to state law.
One of the most important things is we look for the impurities in the plants. So that these products that are being sold to patients, who maybe are ill or may have compromised health -- they don't get sick from the medicine they consume. We also help the producers produce medicines that don't necessarily need to be smoked. So [for] someone who can smoke or doesn't want to smoke or doesn't want their nine-year-old smoking -- there are other options.
You were saying earlier that you've got a little workout routine to keep fit while you're examining samples. Could you tell us about that?
I'll push a sample on the machine and I'll do some jumping jacks. I do about 100 jumping jacks in between samples, or I could do about 35-40 pushups. I was just trying to lose weight, be healthier in my old age.
How many samples does Iron Labs handle in a month?
We probably do 100-200 samples a week. So, a thousand samples a month? Fall, we'll get slammed. We're doing 200 samples a week. In the wintertime it stays pretty steady, because there's no heat issues. The summertime is when you have all your problems. People fighting the heat with their lights -- and fighting mold and humidity, because we're in Michigan. So, in the summertime, you'll see people have lower yields. The plants are struggling to survive in the heat. They're burning up. So less people will test in the summertime.
Who are your competitors?
We're not competitors. We're a community. We're all mutual testing services. There are a few others. Theres MTA (Michigan Testing Authority), Applied Analytics, Cannalytics in Lansing and that's most of what I know of for the state.
How did you get in this line of work?
I was a patient. I hurt myself doing welding. So, for the pain management alone, it's not as hard on my body. I have a weak liver. I was born with one and I don't like to use pharmaceuticals. My body has a hard time breaking down pharmaceuticals, so the natural medicine has always been much smoother on me.
It's always been something I've been passionate about and as a scientist, when you're passionate about something, you bring your science into it... On my own, I invested in the ability to do some testing and a friend of mine was working for this company. That's when I started interning at Iron Labs. I was a go-getter. I was already doing what they were trying to do and the two of us saw a mutually beneficial relationship.
This is before I graduated from Wayne State. I didn't have my degree, yet. I had invested. I was doing science in my closet. I was testing in accordance with state law, of course. But I was practicing trying to test my own meds. ... Then, when I worked with these guys, I was able to bring my expertise as a lab assistant at Wayne State and at St. Clair County Community College, where I worked for over two years.
In addition to your chemical expertise, you certainly have a distinct sense of style. Tell us about your prize-winning mustache.
It's not official, 100%. They gotta send me that award still. So, until I've got that cash in my hand, I haven't won anything yet. But I've been selected as a winner for the Ménage a Trois Wine mustache contest. I entered it just with a photo on Facebook ... and apparently I won a little bit of money and they want to use my picture for promotional use. So not only am I a cannabis scientist, as they say, but I'm also a mustache model.
What about the cape and cane?
I wear the cape, because I wear a lot of blazers and jackets. I've got kind of short arms and a real heavy overcoat is too cumbersome. So I like to wear the cape. So that way, I can wear a nice fancy jacket and not have to walk around as Michelin Man.
I realized they're actually pretty comfortable. They're pretty fashionable. They keep you extremely warm. There's a little bit of a security thing. You can pull your arms inside. They're more than convenient. They're stylish, convenient and utilitarian too. I purchased this one -- put a little fur on the collar. I had to jazz it up a little bit. It's just my style. Got to have something characteristic about my swagger.
And the cane?
The cane's just for when my back's hurting me. I get a little weak in the knees sometimes.
Any other thoughts or fashion advice for budding marijuana chemists?
I would just say, it's not about going out there and wanting to do this job. It's finding something you're passionate about and doing that. I needed to have this information, and no one else was doing it. So I went about doing it the way any chemist would and, in the process of doing that -- trying to solve my problems -- I ran into other people with the same problems and we banded together.
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