Wells Fargo Forces Closure of Steep Hill Lab in Alaska

Steep Hill has been forced out of business by Wells Fargo in Alaska. The location was one of only three marijuana testing labs in Alaska, leaving the state’s cannabis growers with only two options for state-mandated testing.

Steep Hill Alaska, of Anchorage, declared in an Instagram post Thursday that the lab is “suspending cannabis testing operations on March 31,” the Juneau Empire reported .

The lab said it has to relocate after “Wells Fargo called in the loan on our building.” The bank will foreclose on the space if the lab does not move out, according to the post.

“It is currently Wells Fargo’s policy not to knowingly bank marijuana businesses, based on federal laws under which the sale and use of marijuana is still illegal,” Alaska Wells Fargo spokesman Brian Kennedy wrote in an email.

Steep Hill CEO Brian Coyle said his lab’s closure is the end result of months of conflict. That conflict was caused by federal banking regulations that prevent banks from dealing with marijuana businesses.

“To me, Wells Fargo is the real bad guy here,” Coyle said Friday by phone. “They could give a (expletive) about Alaska. Only 700,000 people in Alaska; that’s less than the city of San Francisco.

“We need to hold their feet to the fire. If they’re going to be doing business in Alaska, they should be following Alaska’s state laws.”

Steep Hill rents office space in Anchorage and was informed by its landlord late last year that Wells Fargo — which holds a loan on the building — was preparing to call the loan because it had learned that Steep Hill was a marijuana business.

Steep Hill's website did not mention the closure at the time of publication. Instead, it said:

“We are very excited to bring Steep Hill's industry"leading cannabis testing methods to Alaska. Providing cannabis testing across such a geographically dispersed area like Alaska poses unique challenges, and Steep Hill’s innovative hub-and-spoke approach to providing remote testing was among the driving factors in our decision to work with them. Central to this solution is a proprietary system that can provide testing in Alaskan communities that are not on the road system. In addition, this agreement will enable us to bring testing capabilities to Alaska that are far beyond those that are currently available here, such as genetics testing and strain identification. We hope to work with the State Marijuana Control Board to demonstrate the value of these customized, world-class solutions in helping to ensure the safety and proper labeling of cannabis products throughout the entire Alaskan marketplace,” said Steep Hill Alaska CEO Brian Coyle."

Alaska regulations require marijuana sold in the state to be tested for potency and contaminants. With Steep Hill’s closure, Anchorage-based CannTest and Wasilla-based New Frontier Research now are the only available testing labs in the state.

“The businesses that use Steep Hill are going to be inconvenienced. Obviously Steep Hill is going to be extremely inconvenienced, but as far as the industry as a whole is concerned, I don’t think it will be a major issue,” said Brandon Emmett, a member of Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board.

Emmett, who chairs the subcommittee devoted to testing issues, said the wider effects of Steep Hill’s closure will be limited because CannTest alone has the capacity to handle both business’ work.

A CannTest representative confirmed its lab has enough capacity to handle state demand.