Montana’s largest cannabis testing lab puts clients first
By Mira Brody CONTENT PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
MISSOULA—Fidelity Diagnostics, Montana’s premier cannabis testing laboratory, is located in Missoula’s west side adjacent to the railroad tracks in a building that used to be a trucking headquarters. Although unassuming from the outside, the facility’s insides are bustling with its 25 lab workers. Their location of historic transience and viability is fitting with their services—intaking the largest volume of cannabis products of any lab across the state and acting as Montana’s heartbeat of cannabis regulation and quality assurance.
In an industry that has to remain nimble to ever-changing legislation, experience is an advantageous skill, one that Fidelity carries with stride, embracing a very apt slogan: “Grow with Fidelity.”
“It’s a little bit of a pun,” says Andre Umansky, who co-founded the company alongside wife Melissa, and serves as lab director. “But it’s a good one.”
Cannabis testing is required by the state of Montana’s Department of Revenue Cannabis Control Division for that flower, edibles and concentrates are not only safe for consumption, but also hold manufacturers to a high standard. Fidelity was founded in the Umansky’s living room in October of 2016—they were working on a business plan for a drugs of abuse lab when the passage of I-182, involving legalized recreation marijuana, led them to adjust to meet the needs of the cannabis industry.
Eager to stay located in the state they had fallen in love with while Andre was attending University of Montana’s school of chemistry, the couple also wanted to create jobs for recently-graduated chemists in a market where that opportunity felt sparse. So, they hashed out a business plan and opened a lab.
“We wanted to stay here and one of the ways to do so was to open up a laboratory,” Andre says. “We felt that also doing that would create opportunities for the chemists that were graduating from the local university here so they wouldn’t have to go out of state to find a job after graduating.”
What started with three employees and 10 clients has since grown to 35 employees and 100 clients that cover the entirety of the state, from Fort Peck, Havre, including facilities in Missoula, Bozeman, Colombia Falls and Eastern Montana. Although space may separate them across the fourth largest state in the country, the industry is tightly bonded.
“It’s a close-knit market,” Andre says. “It’s far more rewarding knowing all of our clients and all of our customers.”
Lab testing starts in the field. Fidelity’s 11 field technicians securely intake product and transport them back to the lab where Laboratory Manager Emily Crane and her team of 24 chemists get to work. They test for: foreign matter; microbiological matter, such as Ecoli and mold; pesticides; terpenes; residual solvents; microtoxins; and cannabinoid content and potency, measuring precise levels of CBD and THC.
“Producers cannot spray a crop with an insect outbreak before harvesting because they will not pass a test,” Andre says. “We help them create an insect management program that is non-toxic, then consumers can go to a dispensary and feel good about the product that they are purchasing.”
Fidelity will also test for additional, non state mandated elements that may help producers improve crop quality, and design and print custom labels. Above all they believe in a high level of customer service. Understanding that many producers rely on full shelves to run a business, Fidelity maintains a competitive turnaround time from sample pick up, to producing test results.
Melissa, co-founder and quality assurance manager, says she and Andre are highly involved with Montana’s legislative system as they navigate changes in legislation and department oversight in the state government and see their role as an opportunity to act as a lawmaker resource, welcoming them into their lab.
“We do believe we have the best growers in the nation,” Melissa says. “The Montana cannabis industry will continue to grow as the years go by. The producers and manufacturers are getting better and better, producing better products for their consumers and we’re very proud to alongside them as a partner, to provide accurate, reliable and honest test results.”
Melissa and Andre are also passionate about supporting women in STEM fields—Melissa explains while many women may start their careers in the cannabis industry, it unfortunately has a high drop-off rate.
“We’re super proud to have laboratory manager [Crane] who has been with us since the beginning, myself, and so many other successful women in the Montana cannabis industry,” Melissa says.
“Coming from a scientific background, working for a company that promotes and creates a good environment for female workers, and all workers, it feels good to be seen as a hardworking female,” adds Crane. “When I was in college, and a lot of places I worked after college, it was very few and far between with strong women scientists, so it’s great to have so many here.”
The key to success in the cannabis industry, says both Melissa and Andre, is to not get too far ahead of it, and not to fall behind it. Also, to have a team with robust institutional knowledge.
“Fidelity Diagnostics has 35 people on our team now, and that’s 35 households and 35 livelihoods,” Melissa says. “We take pride in the work that we do everyday. It’s important for us to maintain sample integrity and accuracy, so that we can be the trusted laboratory and Montana.”