A sign for Gardiner Business Park at Libby Hill. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

GARDINER —A marijuana testing lab based in Massachusetts is making plans to expand into central Maine.

On Wednesday, an approval by the Gardiner Planning Board paved the way for MCR Labs to open a facility in the Libby Hill Business Park.

If the company is able to secure all required approvals, it would be the first testing lab operating in central Maine with an opening date targeted for late spring.

Currently, Maine has two testing facilities with active licenses and one with a conditional license that’s close to achieving active status. Two are in York County, one is in Cumberland County.

“The rules keep changing,” Michael Kahn, president of MCR Labs, said. “It’s a moving target.”

MCR Labs officials are applying for a change of use for the 3,500-square-foot building on about 12 acres at 11 Technology Drive, which was vacated by Northeast Radiant Technology in 2013. The property is currently owned by TPM Realty LLC.

Rob Harrington, who handles real estate for MCR Labs, said at the Planning Board meeting that he had been looking for locations in Maine, generally between Brunswick and Waterville.

Harrington said he was looking for a location farther north to be able to serve the whole state more easily.

Gardiner drew his attention because it has allowed marijuana businesses.

“We don’t want to be anywhere where we’re not welcome,” Harrington said. “We narrowed our search to eight communities, and we like the geography here. Maine is a huge state, and we want to serve all of it.”

As a testing facility, MCR Labs must follow both the licensing process required by the Office of Marijuana Policy and a certification process required by the state Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

At the same time, it will also have to secure a business license in Gardiner, which will require a vote of the City Council.

David Heidrich, director of Engagement and Community Outreach for the Office of Marijuana Policy, said the company has been in touch with his office and has signaled its interest in opening a site in Maine.

Under the state’s phased testing plan, which is expected to roll out over several years, Kahn said marijuana will be tested first for potency, mold and bacteria. The next phase is for heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury. The third phase will add testing for pesticides.

“The timing for that is still up in the air,” Kahn said.

Harrington said the labs test marijuana in small amounts, and once tested, most is burned or disposed of.

“It gets ground up with organic matter to make it unusable and unrecognizable,” Kahn said.

In addition to its Massachusetts facility, the company also operates a lab in Pennsylvania.

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