From left to right, Alan Burts, Brandon Wynn and Joshua O’Daniels, three partners in Accurate Analytics, a Black-owned and operated cannabis lab preparing to open in Illinois. Credit: Submitted. / Alan Burts

Seeking to lessen their underrepresentation in the regulated cannabis industry a group of young Black Chicago scientists are charting a course to open the first Black-owned analysis laboratory in the Illinois cannabis market with their burgeoning company, Accurate Analytics.

“The analytical lab we open will provide the full suite of testing for potency, residual solvents, terpenes, mycotoxin, et cetera.” said Alan Burts, who holds a Bachelor’s of Science, Chemistry degree from Chicago State University and a Master’s of Science, Chemistry degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Generally viewed and stereotyped by police and segments of society as suspects-in-waiting, studies show that Black men are profiled and mistreated by police more than any other demographic, providing them with commensurately higher incarceration rates.

Burts is one of four scientists, a project manager, an engineer, and salesperson working together to open Accurate Analytics’ lab as a one-stop shop for all cannabis and hemp analysis needs. Each of the partners have stories about the shock and surprise when people find out they are scientists – as well as about their encounters with police.

“There have been several instances,” said chemist Joshua O’Daniels, an analytical development laboratory manager, who holds a Bachelor of Science, Biology degree and Chemistry minor from Alabama A&M University as well as a Masters of Science, Medical Physiology degree from the same school.

O’Daniels recalled an incident during his freshman year, at A&M, where he and Burts met.

“We were in a friend’s new Escalade and were profiled and pulled over by the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency],” O’Daniels said. “You know, three young African American males in a fancy car. We were on our way to play basketball. They let us go but we had weapons drawn on us. All of us were from out of state so I guess they thought we were part of a cartel or something.”

A food safety consultant who holds a Bachelor’s of Science, Industrial Systems Engineering degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Brandon Wynn, one of the lab partners, recalled the day he was randomly picked up in South Holland, a southern Chicago suburb, because the police said he fit the profile of someone they were looking for. 

“I was maybe 12-years old,” Wynn said. “I had a big red afro and not many people look like me. I was walking from Jewel Osco which was around the corner from my house. I saw a cop car flying past. They turned around and picked up and put me in the car and told me I fit the script for somebody they were looking for in a drug-related crime. That was the first time that I’d been affiliated with anything involving the War on Drugs. I was a straight-A student, scholar, and I played basketball. I was just a good kid. I didn’t cause any issues. In my mind, I thought, ‘if you do good, good things will come to you.’ But unfortunately, that’s just not the case for people of our hue.”

Once victims of the War on Drugs, the lab partners are now looking to benefit from a new perspective on cannabis’ role in society, as lab owners and business operators in a booming industry.

Illinois cannabis retail sales surpassed $1.7 billion in 2021, roughly a 42% increase over 2020.

“We started putting pen to paper around the middle of September,” Burts said of the laboratory endeavor. “Right now, we are looking at locations. The process for getting a certification for cannabis, you have to already have a lab in place, and it has to be accredited. The application is literally one page.”

For Wynn, the reaction they get from people upon hearing they are working to start a cannabis testing lab, is confirmation that he is where he’s supposed to be and doing what he and the others are supposed to be doing.

“We’re on the front lines and on the enemy lines and we are pushing the envelope,” Wynn said. “We’re used to being the minorities. We are each other’s support system.”

Scouting sites and reaching out to investors for the estimated $1.2 to $1.5 million start-up costs to purchase the property and lab equipment, et cetera, is what the group is up to these days.

“We are going to reach out to our networks for investors,” Burts said. “We will hold a few ‘pitch parties’ via Zoom where we outline the potential investment. Secondly, we will search for potential loans and grants to cover the remaining costs. Hopefully, we are able to raise enough money to where we do not need loans. Our pro forma will be ready by the middle to end of January and that’s when we will start pitching to raise the funds.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.