Tag Archives: certification

Steven Burton
Soapbox

Which Safety Standards Work Best for the Cannabis Industry?

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton

Now that governments are legalizing cannabis around the world, the question looms for cannabis businesses seeking legitimacy in the new industry: what safety standards should apply? This question is more difficult as different jurisdictions grapple with defining and implementing legal requirements and struggle to keep up with the pace of growth.

For visionary cannabis business, it makes sense to anticipate requirements – not only from governments, but also from consumers and partners. Most regulations currently focus on security and basic health issues but, in the long-term, the industry that may offer the best model for cannabis businesses isn’t pharmaceuticals, but food. Cannabis (especially edibles) share similar hazards and traceability challenges with food products, so taking the lead from the food industry will be much more applicable and could offer greater benefits.

marijuana buds drying in racks biotrackthc
Dried cannabis curing with RFID tags as part of a traceability system.

Companies that achieve the highest and most flexible certification will enjoy a crucial competitive advantage when it comes to winning market share, popularity and consumer trust. Let’s take a quick look at the different options of food safety (and quality) certifications that cannabis businesses may consider. But first, let’s clarify two important definitions that are necessary to understand the food industry.

Basic Concepts from the Food Industry

The first acronym you should be aware of is GFSI, the Global Food Safety Initiative. GFSI is a food industry-driven global collaboration body created to advance food safety. When it comes to understanding GFSI, the important part to note is that certifications recognized by GFSI (like SQF, FSSC 22000, and BRC) are universally accepted. Companies operating under GFSI-recognized certifications open the most doors to the most markets, providing the highest potential for growth. For this reason, cannabis companies should be aware of and seriously consider seeking GFSI certifications

HACCPSecondly, many food safety programs are built around Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, or HACCP. While many people may talk about HACCP like it’s a certification in and of itself, it is not actually a certification like the others on this list, but rather a methodology that helps companies systematically identify and control biological, chemical, and physical hazards that may arise during food production, handling, and distribution. Companies that adopt this methodology end up with a HACCP plan, which must then be followed at all times to avoid and address health and safety issues. It’s often required for food businesses and is generally required in most of the world, except where ISO 22000 is more common, primarily in Europe and countries whose primary export market is European. Since HACCP plans are also incorporated into most of the other achievable certifications, developing a HACCP program early will build a strong foundation for higher levels of certification.

Certifications for the Cannabis Industry

Now that we understand the basics of GFSI and HACCP, we can see how the certifications that have been developed by and for the food industry may apply to cannabis companies – and which you should consider necessary for your business.

GMP: Good Manufacturing Practice Certification

GMP (or sometimes cGMP) certification requires that companies abide by a set of good manufacturing processes for food and beverage products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, dietary supplements and medical devices. Since it really only covers basic sanitation and employee hygiene, it is considered the lowest level of certification in the industry. It is not recognized by GFSI, but GFSI does require all the standard benchmarks of a GMP be met before granting GFSI certification.

While GMP certification is often required, it is far below the standard that should be upheld by any serious businesses. It doesn’t cover many of the different types of hazards associated with food production – that I have argued will become increasingly relevant to cannabis producers – and doesn’t provide a systematic approach to identifying and controlling hazards like a HACCP program would. It’s really just about providing the basic procedures and checks to ensure that the facility is clean and that employees aren’t contaminating the products.GMP

Final Verdict: Recommended, but as the bare minimum. GMP is not sufficient on its own to adequately control the risk of recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks, and it limits a company’s market potential because it lacks the GFSI worldwide stamp of approval.

Some companies consider GMP certification a good place to start if you’re on a tight deadline for distribution in markets where only GMP is required by regulators. I would argue that striving for the minimum standards will be costly in the long run. Health, safety and quality standards are the foundations upon which winning companies are built. It’s critical to develop a corporate culture that will lead to GFSI-recognized programs without major organizational overhaul. Start on the right foot and set your sights higher – obtain a certification that will stand the test of time and avoid the pain and risks of trying to change entrenched behaviors.

SQF: Safe Quality Food Program Certification

SQF is my number one recommendation as the best certification for the cannabis industry. One of the most common certifications in North America, SQF is a food safety management system recognized by retailers and consumers alike. It is administered by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and, importantly, recognized by GFSI, which gives companies a huge competitive edge. SQF focuses on the whole supply chain.

SQF was also the first to develop a cannabis program and is currently the leader in this market segment. It is also the scheme that best integrates food safety with quality. Since it is recognized worldwide, SQF provides the greatest leverage to accelerate a company’s growth. Once obtained, products with SQF certification can often jump the queue to enter different regulatory markets.

Final verdict: Highly recommended. A cannabis company with an SQF certification has the greatest advantage because it offers the broadest worldwide reach and keeps companies a step ahead of competitors. It’s also achievable – just this past April, Curaleaf Florida ostensibly became the first cannabis company to achieve SQF certification. It is tough, but fair and practical.

Other Certification Standards

SQF is the top certification that should be considered by cannabis companies, especially outside of Europe. However, the food industry has several other major types of standards that, at this time, have limited relevance to the cannabis industry today. Let’s take a quick look.

When considering GFSI-recognized programs, the main choice for food companies is between SQF, which we’ve covered, and BRC (the British Retail Consortium Certification). BRC has the most in common with SQF but, while SQF was originally developed for processed foods, BRC was developed in the UK for meat products. Today, they are quite similar, but BRC doesn’t focus quite as much on the quality component as SQF does. While BRC could be a good option, they don’t have a program for cannabis and, thus far, do not appear to be as friendly toward the cannabis industry.The food industry has a lot to offer cannabis companies that are anticipating future regulatory changes and market advantages 

Across the pond, there are a few other certification standards that are more common than SQF. One of these is ISO 22000, which is the certification for the food-related standard created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Europe. It is not recognized by GFSI but is the primary system used in Europe. If your market is exclusively in the EU, it might be a good choice for you in the future. However, to date, there is no indication that any cannabis company has achieved ISO 22000 certification. Some cannabis companies have attained certification for other ISO standards like ISO 9001:2015, which specifies requirements for quality control systems, and ISO/IEC 17025 for laboratory testing. These are generally more relevant for the pharmaceutical industry than food and beverage, but still apply to cannabis.

There is the perception that cannabis is more accepted in EU countries like the Netherlands, but the regulatory attitude to cannabis is complicated. In the Netherlands, for example, cannabis isn’t actually legal – “coffee shops” fall under a toleration policy that doesn’t include regulation. Medical cannabis in the Netherlands is all produced by one supplier and several countries in the EU allow for licensed distribution and import, but not domestic production. Various EU countries are trying to keep up with the legalization trend, however. The Czech Republic, Germany, and others all recently introduced legislation for domestic production of cannabis for medical use. For companies with their eye on the EU, it is crucial to watch which regulatory requirements will be implemented in each market and how.

The last certification standard to mention is the result of a compromise between ISO and the more HACCP oriented programs like SQF. FSSC 22000 (Food Safety System Certification) tries to address the gaps between ISO 22000 and GFSI-recognized certifications by introducing another component called PAS 220. Since it is recognized by GFSI, FSSC 22000 is starting to get more traction in the food industry because it makes products a bit easier to export to the EU. FSSC 22000 satisfies the EU ISO standards but isn’t as closely tied to HACCP. We will be keeping an eye on this one.

Final Takeaway

The food industry has a lot to offer cannabis companies that are anticipating future regulatory changes and market advantages – but it’s difficult for cannabis companies to understand all the options available and how each apply to their specific products. While markets adjust beyond the preliminary issue of legality, it’s crucial for companies to look forward and comply with safety and quality standards like SQF. Companies who strive for SQF certification (or other GFSI-recognized certifications as they become available) will find themselves far better prepared to seize market share as cannabis markets blossom.

Dr. Ed Askew
From The Lab

Quality Plans for Lab Services: Managing Risks as a Grower, Processor or Dispensary

By Dr. Edward F. Askew
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Dr. Ed Askew

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s opinions based on his experience working in the laboratory industry. This is an opinion piece in a series of articles designed to highlight the potential problems that clients may run into with labs. 


This article is the first in a series that will look into the risks any user of laboratory services (growers, processors or dispensary owners) will face from the quality systems in place in the laboratory. I will discuss specific risk areas in clear and understandable language so as to not obscure the substance of the article series with abbreviations and nomenclature that is not familiar with the reader. Subjects of the articles that follow will focus on the specific laboratory certification or accreditation requirements and how the user may find out if their risks are addressed. As these articles are meant to be interactive with the reader, users are encouraged to send questions or suggested topics to the author.

This article will be an introduction to the typical laboratory process that generates the “paperwork wall” and how it might impact the user.My experience with laboratory certification or accreditation (difference between the two discussed later in this article) comes from over 30+ years in the environmental chemistry field. My experiences include working under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, FIFRA (pesticides) and ISO 17025 laboratory analyses and laboratory management. I have also received training to perform ISO 17025 and EPA Drinking Water audits. During this time I have been audited as a laboratory analyst/laboratory manager and have performed audits.

As such, I can open up the laboratory structure beyond the sterile “paperwork wall” that has been constructed to allow the user to see the quality of data that is used in final reports that can wreak havoc. This article will be an introduction to the typical laboratory process that generates the “paperwork wall” and how it might impact the user.

One of the common misconceptions that a user has with a “certified or accredited” laboratory is that procession of a certificate indicates that ALL laboratory analyses produced are accurate and precise. I liken this to the “paperwork wall” that laboratories produce when the user questions any results reported to them. The laboratory management assumes that they have answered the user complaint (i.e. a certified/accredited laboratory cannot make a mistake) and the user will not pursue further questions once the certificate is produced.Accreditation does not guarantee that the laboratory personnel can perform the analyses the user is paying for; just that the laboratory’s paperwork has been audited.

First off, let’s look at what the difference between the terms certified laboratory vs. accredited laboratory. These simple words mean specifically different types of laboratories. According to the NIST National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP):

  • Certification is used for verifying that personnel have adequate credentials to practice certain disciplines, as well as for verifying that products meet certain requirements.
  • Accreditation is used to verify that laboratories have an appropriate quality management system and can properly perform certain test methods (e.g., ANSI, ASTM, and ISO test methods) and calibration parameters according to their scopes of accreditation.

So, how does that impact the user?

  • If your state or 3rd party certificate only accredits a laboratory, then the accreditation agency only inspects the laboratory’s quality program as it applies to written documents and static equipment. (e.g. The quality manual is written and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are in place).
  • Accreditation does not guarantee that the laboratory personnel can perform the analyses the user is paying for; just that the laboratory’s paperwork has been audited.
  • Certification on the other hand says that the laboratory personnel are qualified to perform the laboratory analyses and that the final laboratory results meet specific (certain) requirements. In other words, the laboratory’s quality plan and SOPs are met.

There are three different paths that are utilized by state cannabis control agencies to accredit or certify a cannabis laboratory.

  • ISO 17025: The ISO laboratory quality standard for laboratory accreditation is the most broadly used. ISO 17025 is an international standard and its implementation in the United States is regulated by ILAC. There are three 3rd party companies that audit for and award ISO 17025 accreditation certificates. They are Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation Inc., ANAB and A2LA.
  • TNI: The NELAC Institute standards are utilized by one state to handle their cannabis laboratory accreditation.
  • States: Some states have tried to blend an ISO 17025 requirement with their own state’s certification requirements to produce a mixed accreditation-certification program. But, this type of program may rely on two or more agencies (e.g. ISO 17025 3rd party auditors communicating with state auditors) to cover all specific laboratory areas.

PJLAIn two of the paths above, the final result is that the laboratory receives accreditation. That means that only the quality management system and the scope (e.g. SOPS, laboratory instruments, etc.) have been audited, not the laboratory personnel or their capabilities. The third pathway may produce a certified laboratory or may not.

To provide an example of where an accredited laboratory followed their paperwork but produced inadequate results:

  • I received a laboratory report for organic chemical analyses of a client’s process.
    • The laboratory results placed the user in noncompliance with the state and federal regulatory limits.
    • But, the laboratory result contained data flags (e.g. additional information that explains why the laboratory result failed the laboratory’s quality requirements).
    • The laboratory still received payment from the user as the laboratory performed the analyses.
  • I had to explain to the regulatory agency that some of the data flags when investigated showed:
    • The laboratory failed to use the approved analytical method.
    • The detection level for the regulatory chemical was so low that the laboratory had no instrument capable to see those chemicals at the concentrations reported by the laboratory.
  • The state regulators accepted the explanation I provided and the user was no longer under a regulatory administrative order.
  • But, when I presented this information to the accreditation agency that accredited this laboratory I was informed:
    • The laboratory flagged the data so it can be reported to the user.
    • If the user wanted more from the laboratory, then the user will have to outline their specific requirement in a quality contract with the laboratory. (i.e. If the laboratory identifies the problems then they can report the data no matter what happens to the user).

So now, what is being done behind the “paperwork wall”? Areas such as those listed below can impact the results received by the user.

  • Laboratory quality culture: What does the laboratory staff think about quality in their normal daily work?
  • Laboratory staff competence: What is the level of training and real world competence of the staff that actually works on the analyses?
  • Laboratory capabilities: Does the laboratory actually have the laboratory instruments and equipment that can perform the analyses the user needs?
  • Laboratory quality control parameters: What is in the quality manual and does it make sense?
  • Laboratory analytical method validation: Are the analytical methods used by the laboratory validated by approved statistical procedures?

What should the user have in place to limit their risks from laboratory analyses?

  • Failsafe sampling preparation plans: Make sure the user samples for the laboratory are collected correctly.
  • Failsafe’s on laboratory sample reports: Protect the user from bad laboratory reports.
  • User auditing of the laboratory: Go to the laboratory and see if the laboratory can pass muster.

What’s Next: The next article will go behind the laboratory “paperwork wall” to detail the culture that impacts the user results negatively and how that can be recognized. Follow-up articles will help users developing quality plans that identify risks and how to limit them.

roger_headshot

Ask The Expert: Exploring Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Part 2

By Aaron G. Biros
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roger_headshot

In the first part of this series, Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), told us about the basics of laboratory accreditation, what it means and why it is such a cornerstone of product safety. In this next piece, we sit down with Roger Brauninger, A2LA Biosafety Program manager, to learn why states are looking to lab accreditation in their regulations for the cannabis industry.

Brauninger has worked at A2LA since 1999. As the manager of their biosafety program, his focus is on developing and maintaining accreditation programs in the life sciences. Brauninger has conducted a number of management system assessments to ISO/IEC 17025 and 17020 and also evaluates other assessors in this role.

roger_headshot
Roger Brauninger, A2LA biosafety program manager

He is A2LA’s point person for interacting with organizations working with food and drug safety, human and animal anti-doping, biological and chemical threat agents and since 2014 for issues related to cannabis testing. He is a member of the ASTM D37 Cannabis committee, a group focused on creating standards for cannabis products. He was also a member of the stakeholder panel on strategic food analytical methods (SPSFAM) cannabis potency working group when they were awarded the Official Methods Board (OMB) award for achievement in technical and scientific excellence at the AOAC’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta, GA. Brauninger holds an M.S. degree in Cellular, Microbial and Molecular Biology from George Mason University and is a member of the Society for Toxicology, AOAC International and the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP).

In this part of the series, we sit down with Brauninger to learn specific requirements in states, some of the benefits of using ISO/IEC 17025 and the influx of start-up or novice testing laboratories. Stay tuned for part three.

CannabisIndustryJournal: Do all states with legalized medical cannabis require the testing to be performed by an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory?

Roger Brauninger: No not at present, while most of the states where cannabis is legal do require accreditation; there are some states that have no requirements dealing with ensuring the competence of the testing laboratories, some that require the labs to be accredited to state environmental and drinking water standards, some that require laboratories adhere to Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) requirements and some have no requirements in place currently. Now, there are roughly 13 states that require or recommend accreditation of the testing laboratory to ISO/IEC 17025.

CIJ: If and when cannabis use is accepted federally, how is ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation of testing laboratories beneficial?

Roger: The accreditation process provides a uniform platform to allow for comparability of test results between states. This would also allow for these laboratories to benefit by being able to expand their customer base, if state borders were not an artificially imposed barrier to trade. This could also help to raise the quality of the testing services by allowing for greater participation in realistic accredited proficiency testing programs, which can create greater comparability of methods and results.

CIJ: What are the benefits to the states by choosing to require ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation as a basis for competence of testing laboratories?

Roger: States face the unique challenge, due to the federal illegality of cannabis, that they must craft their own regulatory cannabis program requirements. The ISO/IEC 17025 requirements provides a means upon which to recognize laboratory competence. This saves the states from having to come up with their own laboratory quality management requirements detailing the necessary activities a laboratory must address with respect to documentation, chain of custody, method validation, etc. Because these items are already considered in the standard. ISO/IEC 17025 helps to creates a baseline consistency amongst laboratories between states. And It also helps to   provides for the legal defensibility of the test results. If and when cannabis is legalized on a federal level, a uniform 50 state recognition is possible using ISO/IEC 17025 as the basis of recognition. In short accreditation can help to ensure that test results have greater comparability and reliability; It also provides greater trust and confidence in the labels and the stated ingredients.

CIJ: Many of the laboratories are “starting up”, how is A2LA equipped to deal with the influx of novice laboratories in this field of testing?

Roger: A2LA offers many different relevant training classes, including those on the ISO/IEC 17025 standard itself, (as well as ones that also contain cannabis-specific content), internal auditing, documenting your quality system, etc. for the laboratories. A2LA also is knowledgeable regarding various states’ cannabis regulatory requirements and can help guide the labs through some of the many obstacles they face in order to perform testing in their state.

CIJ: Does A2LA provide any technical assistance to laboratories that are starting up in this industry?

Roger: A2LA has numerous technical assessors who are experts in the analytical technology associated with cannabis testing. Assessors can be hired in a consulting role and act independently of the assessment process (and independent of A2LA). As a consultant, they can also assist in setting up a quality management system in compliance with ISO/IEC 17025.

CIJ: What benefits can be gained from a laboratory seeking accreditation or from a state that requires cannabis testing laboratories to be accredited?

Roger: Accreditation can provide legal defensibility and increased confidence in the test results being able to stand up in court.   It also may help to lower the cost of doing business because it helps to ensure that the test methods are in control by the laboratory and has been shown to be able to reduce the need for repeat testing. Laboratory accreditation has also led to reduced insurance rates in some cases.

Ask The Expert: Exploring Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Part 1

By Aaron G. Biros
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Laboratories throughout the world and in a variety of industries get accredited to demonstrate their competency. In the cannabis industry, some states are beginning to require it and many labs get accredited even if their state doesn’t require it. So what does accreditation mean and why is it so important?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a standard-setting organization that works to promote industrial and commercial standards. The standards set by ISO are designed to help prove a product’s safety and quality to a certain minimum level.

The ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard sets specific requirements to demonstrate the competence of a lab for carrying out tests. It essentially shows customers or regulators that a lab has the skills and scientific know-how to perform testing, certifying the lab is capable. Accreditation means certifying a lab to that standard and is synonymous with both quality and competence of an organization.

Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at A2LA

The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), founded in 1978, is a non-profit, internationally recognized accreditation body in the United States that offers laboratory and laboratory-related accreditation services and training. They have worked in the cannabis industry to accredit a number of cannabis laboratories to the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard. In this series of articles, we sit down with experts from A2LA to learn more about cannabis lab accreditation, why it’s so important and some of the challenges labs face when seeking accreditation.

In the first part of this series, we sit down with Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at A2LA, to learn the basics. Michelle earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Towson State University and then attended Hood College, earning a master’s certificate in Regulatory Compliance in Biomedical Science. She has worked at A2LA for eight years, assisting in the accreditation of food testing, environmental testing and cannabis testing laboratories to ISO/IEC 17025, as well as performing quality system assessments. She also facilitates a number of accreditation programs including Field Sampling Measurement Organizations, STAC (Air Emissions) and Cannabis Testing. Bradac is also a member of the ASTM Cannabis Working Group and the ACIL Cannabis Working Group.

In the next part of this series, we will hear about specific requirements in states, some of the benefits of using ISO/IEC 17025 and the influx of start-up or novice testing laboratories.

CannabisIndustryJournal: What is Laboratory Accreditation? 

Michelle Bradac: Laboratory accreditation is a formal means of determining and recognizing the technical competence of laboratories to perform specific types of testing, via the use of an independent third party accreditation body. It provides laboratory users a mechanism to identify and select reliable testing organizations. Use of ISO/IEC 17025 as a basis for laboratory accreditation is internationally recognized as THE conformity assessment standard to which laboratories are accredited; it is used in the USA by both Public (State, local, federal (FDA, USDA, CDC, DoD and EPA) and private laboratories for testing of foods & feeds, drugs, cosmetics, tobacco, natural products and cannabis (among other materials and products).

CIJ: How does laboratory accreditation benefit the cannabis testing laboratory? 

Michelle: It provides a framework for continuous improvement and self-correction where the cannabis testing laboratory data management system is independently reviewed and blinded sample Proficiency Testing is encouraged.

CIJ: How does laboratory accreditation benefit the medical cannabis recommending physician?

Michelle: The physician gains a greater degree of assurance that the material provided by the dispensary is what the label says it is. This is especially important in working with patients that are immunocompromised where heavy metals, residual solvents and harmful pesticides could have negative health consequences.

CIJ: How does the testing of medical cannabis by an accredited laboratory benefit the patient?

Michelle: The patient gains increased confidence that the label accurately reflects the potency and chemical properties of the product.

CIJ: What specific challenges does A2LA face in accrediting cannabis testing laboratories?

Michelle: Much of the typical infrastructure is lacking or only now being developed. This ranges from proficiency testing programs, Reference Material Producers, method development and sampling procedures. There is also difficulty in ensuring that laboratories are appropriately validating methods in states where cannabis product is not yet available.

CIJ: Why is A2LA the optimal choice for ensuring the quality and reliability of the results produced by medical marijuana testing laboratories?

Michelle: A2LA has by far the most experience as an accreditor of laboratories that perform testing of natural plant products. We have been performing assessments of and granting accreditation to these types of laboratories for over twenty years. This results in our staff and our assessor corps who are then able to provide valuable insight and technical sophistication that other accreditation bodies do not have. Specific to the cannabis industry, A2LA is also represented in all the major standards development organizations, tradeshows and industry groups; which strengthens our understanding of the industry and ability to assist our customers towards meeting their goal of obtaining accreditation.

Ask the Expert: Q&A with Steve Stadlmann on Cannabis lab Accreditation

By Aaron G. Biros
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Steve Stadlmann has an extensive background as an analytical chemist working in laboratories since the early 90’s. He is now a sales specialist at PerkinElmer, an analytical instrument manufacturer that provides instruments for cannabis testing labs, in addition to a host of other industries. With over two decades of experience working in environmental testing labs, food and beverage labs and agricultural testing labs, Stadlmann is extremely familiar with the instruments used in cannabis labs.

Steve Stadlmann, sales specialist at Perkin Elmer

In 2014, he started working in the cannabis space with TriQ, Inc., a technology solutions provider for cannabis growers, where he worked in product development on a line of nutrients. In April of 2016, he started working at Juniper Analytics, a cannabis-testing laboratory in Bend, Oregon. As laboratory director there, he created their quality manual, quality assurance plan, SOP’s and all the technical documentation for ORELAP accreditation. He developed new methodologies for cannabis testing industry for residual solvents, terpene profiles and potency analysis. He worked with PerkinElmer on pesticide methodology for the QSight™ Triple Quadrupole LC/MS/MS system and implemented operational procedures and methods for LC-UV, GCMS and LC-MS/MS, including sample prep for cannabis products.

He left Juniper Analytics about two months ago to work with PerkinElmer as a sales specialist. With extensive experience in helping get Juniper’s lab accredited, he is a wealth of knowledge on all things cannabis laboratory accreditation. PerkinElmer will be hosting a free webinar on September 12th that takes a deep dive into all things cannabis lab accreditation. Ahead of the upcoming webinar, Getting Accreditation in the Cannabis Industry, we sit down with Stadlmann to hear his observations on what instruments he recommends for accreditation, and processes and procedures to support that. Take a look at our conversation below to get a glimpse into what this webinar will discuss.

CannabisIndustryJournal: How can cannabis labs prepare for accreditation with selecting instrumentation?

Steve: Finding the appropriate instrumentation for the regulations is crucial. Ensuring the instrumentation not only has the capabilities of analyzing all the required compounds, but also able to achieve appropriate detection limit requirements. In addition, having an instrument manufacturer as a partner, that is willing and able to assist in method development, implementation and continued changes to the testing requirements at the state level (and potentially national level) is key.

Another consideration is robustness of the equipment. The instrumentation must be capable of high throughput for fast turnaround times of results. Unlike the environmental industry, the cannabis industry has consumer products with expiration dates. Clients demand quick turnaround of results to get product to market as quickly as possible and avoid sitting on inventory for any length of time.

To add to the robustness need, sample matrices in the cannabis industry can be quite challenging in relation to analytical instrumentation. Equipment that is able to handle these matrices with minimal downtime for routine service is becoming a requirement to maintain throughput needs of the industry.

CIJ: What are the most crucial procedures and practices for achieving ISO 17025 accreditation?

Steve: Development and documentation of processes and procedures following Good Laboratory Practices and procedures is essential to a successful accreditation process. Great attention must be paid to the quality objectives of the laboratory as well as associated documentation, including tracking of any errors, deviations, updates, complaints, etc.

Data integrity is a key component to any accrediting body and includes implementation and/or development of appropriate methods with support data proving acceptable results. In addition, documentation of all procedures and processes along with tracking of all steps in the process during routine laboratory work should be a priority. The ability to show a complete, documented trail of all procedures done to any sample is important in ensuring the results can be reproduced and ensuring no deviations occurred, in turn potentially causing questionable results.

Last but not least: training. Laboratory staff should be well versed in any procedures they are involved in to ensure high data quality and integrity. If any laboratory staff does not receive appropriate training in any operating procedures, the data quality becomes suspect.

CIJ: What are some of the biggest obstacles or pitfalls cannabis labs face when trying to get accredited?

Steve: Not fully preparing to meet any agency and testing regulations and requirements will cause delays in the accreditation process and potentially more work for the laboratory. From documentation to daily operations, if any aspect becomes a major finding for an auditor, additional data is usually required to prove the error has been fixed satisfactorily.

Taking the time early on to ensure all documentation, processes and procedures are adhering to any regulatory agency requirements is important for a smooth accreditation process. It is easy to overlook small details when building out the operating procedures that might be essential in the process. Again, going back to data quality, the laboratory must ensure all steps are outlined and documented to ensure high quality (reproducible) data and integrity.

A new employee should be able to come in and read a quality manual and standard operating procedure and produce equivalent data to any laboratory analyst doing the same job. With difficult or challenging operating procedures it becomes even more important that training and documentation are adhered to.


PerkinElmer’s free webinar will dive into these points and others in more detail. To learn more and sign up, click here.

Steep Hill Hawaii Launches, Receives ISO 17025 Accreditation

By Aaron G. Biros
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Spectra Analytical LLC, doing business as Steep Hill Hawaii, was the first cannabis-testing laboratory to be licensed by the State of Hawaii and opened for business on August 1st. Today the lab announced they received ISO 17025:2005 certifications in biological and chemical testing from Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation, Inc., according to a press release.

Dana Ciccone, chief executive officer of Steep Hill Hawaii, has been a patient advocate and leader in cannabis education in Hawaii, as well as a member of the Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensary Task Force, an organization formed by the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center to develop regulations for the state. “We are proud not only to be the first cannabis lab to be licensed in the State of Hawaii, but also now the first lab to achieve ISO certification as well,” says Ciccone. “Industry businesses, medical professionals, state regulators, and patients can be confident that our lab and its testing standards will operate to the highest international standards.”

According to the press release, the laboratory will offer services for testing cannabinoid profiles (potency), terpenes, pesticides, heavy metals, biological screening, and residual solvents, testing for 17 Cannabinoids and 43 terpenes. The release states they are locally owned and operated, providing testing services for not just industry businesses, but in-state card-holding patients as well.

“This is a turning point for the industry – we have moved very quickly to raise the industry standards in Hawaii to internationally recognized certification,” says Ciccone. “I am very proud our scientific team for the professionalism and hard work they put in to achieve this certification.”

Organic Cannabis Association & Ethical Cannabis Alliance Announce Merger

By Aaron G. Biros
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The Organic Cannabis Association and Ethical Cannabis Alliance announced today they are merging into one organization, the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), according to a press release. The new third-party certifications include “Organically Grown” and “Fairly Produced”, granting producers a seal for marketing if they achieve the certifications.

Ashley Preece, executive director of the Cannabis Certification Council

According to Ashley Preece of the Ethical Cannabis Alliance, now executive director at CCC, they plan on starting with the “Organically Grown” certification as first certification to market. “We are launching with Organically which will include robust labor standards as well as standards that go beyond [USDA] Organic,” says Preece. “The USDA Organic standard is watered down and we want to expand on proper horticulture practices so it relates directly to cannabis producers.” The process of designing that certification involves using that USDA Organic certification as a building block to draw from but not directly adopt.

“We will start by pulling from Organic and Fair Trade standards, then we will have a technical advisory committee (TAC), made up of multi-stakeholder agricultural industry and cannabis industry professionals to give input and adjust the standard accordingly,” says Preece. “From there we will have a pilot program, engaging with producers abiding by the standards’ requirements. After the pilot phase, we make final adjustments before bringing it to market.” In order to make sure their certification works across the board, Preece says they are engaging with stakeholders around the country and eventually globally. “We need to engage each different community to make sure this is applicable on a national level.” Preece also says they plan staying abreast of other standards, such as ASTM International’s, but those are geared more towards production safety. “We are looking towards more robust Organic and Fair Trade standards, and ‘cannabinizing’ them,” says Preece.

Photo courtesy of L’Eagle Services

David Bronner, a prominent advocate of drug policy reform and CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, a top-selling soap brand in the US market place, will be providing seed funding and a matching grant to the CCC. “We are committed to making socially and environmentally responsible products of the highest value, and we are excited for the CCC to begin driving that ethos in the cannabis industry,” says Bronner. “The Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), with its unique mission, is a perfect vessel for us to support our values in the cannabis space.”

Preece says the “Fairly Produced” labor certification is going to be based off of Fair Trade practices. “That will include living wages per community and taking options of ownership into consideration, including different business models where employees might have shares or partial ownership,” says Preece. “As we know, this industry has come from the illicit market, where we saw a lot of inappropriate working environments, gender relations and pay schedules. So we want to ensure that workers have contracts in place, they are treated fairly just as any other industry and we want to mitigate any strange encounters that might have seeped into this regulated market.” Founding board members include Laura Rivero of Yerba Buena Farms; Amy Andrle of L’Eagle Services Denver; Nick Richards of Dill and Dill and Vicente Sederberg; and Ben Gelt of Par, with Ashley Preece as executive director. “This is a huge step for the cannabis industry,” says Preece. “Our collaboration reflects the priority of the mission ingrained in both parties, and together we will immediately be greater than the sum of our parts.”

Dr. Allison Justice

What Does it Really Mean To Be Organic in Cannabis?

By Dr. Allison Justice
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Dr. Allison Justice

If you ask an organic chemist, it’s any molecule with a carbon attached. If you ask a consumer of USDA Certified Organic vegetables, they might say it is food produced without chemicals pesticides, that it is safer and cleaner and even more nutritious. Possibly another consumer will say it’s just a hoax to pay more for food, but what does the USDA Certified Organic Farmer say?

Most will agree it is a very rigorous process of record keeping, fees, rules and oversight. The farmers have limited choices for pesticides and fertilizers; they incur higher labor costs, suffer potentially lower yields and generally have higher input costs. However, at the end of the day the farmer does get a higher price point.

With so many misconceptions about organic food, it is difficult to know what is actually organic by definition. First let’s think about what the word pesticide means. A pesticide is “a substance used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants or to animals.” By definition, a vacuum used to suck off spidermites is a pesticide, so instead we should say that no synthetic pesticides are used. These are pesticides that enter and reside for long periods of time within the plant, which are potentially harmful to the end consumer. Though organic food does not contain synthetic pesticides, the perception of the food being healthier is also not always accurate. Growers often use foliar applied teas or manures, which increase the chance of the product containing E. coli or other harmful microbes. In addition, certain sanitizing agents or gamma irradiation is not allowed, so the post-harvest cleaning is not always as thorough as for conventional foods. When cannabis is sold as a dried product, the consumer cannot wash the flower as they might do before eating an apple. As growers, we should make sure we are disinfecting the flower before harvest and keeping the plant/processes clean throughout curing.

I often hear cannabis growers saying they are producing an organic product, but this simply cannot be true. The term “organic” is a labeling term for agricultural products (food, fiber or feed) that have been produced in accordance to the federal government’s USDA organic regulations. Due to our (cannabis growers) ongoing disagreements with the federal government, this is not a term we can put on our product. However, we can still grow to the same standards as USDA-certified farmers. How can we do this? By using OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved products. OMRI is a third-party, nonprofit organization that lets growers know if a product can be used in certified Organic production. You can find this seal on many fertilizers or pesticides.

Next, if it is a pesticide product that is not OMRI approved, check to see if it is registered by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The EPA will provide ingredients and crops that are approved, amounts which can be used safely and storage/disposal practices on the label. Products that are put through the EPA registration are evaluated for their environmental, human and residual risks. Companies pay a hefty fee for this process, and much research goes into providing this information – ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!

A couple of exceptions to an EPA registration are pesticides that are 25B-exempt and biological control. 25B-exempt pesticides are pesticides that pose minimal or no risk to humans. A complete list of these products can be found here. Examples of these pesticides include rosemary, garlic, spearmint, etc.

Biological control is a method for controlling pests by the use of natural enemies. Biological control agents are allowed in organic production. If you are still wondering which pesticides or fertilizer are OK to use in cannabis and you do not live in a state with already enforced regulation, check out allowed lists in states that do.

So we know we cannot be considered a USDA organic cannabis farmer, but we CAN strive to meet the same standards:

  • Follow your state’s regulations; they are there for a reason!
  • Use OMRI products, 25B-exempt products and BCAs.
  • Keep an eye out for upcoming third-party certification companies, such as Clean Green or MPS (beware of the ones that want you to only use their products), because we need more than the state to regulate what we put onto our crop.
  • Finally, always think about the microbial load you’ve put on your plants. Although many can be very beneficial and help to produce high quality crops, many species can be harmful to the end user.

Sustainability for the Cannabis Industry, Part II: The New Cannabis Consumer

By Olivia L. Dubreuil, Esq., Brett Giddings
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Most readers ought to be well aware that the cannabis industry is rapidly growing. The Arcview Group, an Oakland-based investor network, estimates the retail and wholesale cannabis market will reach $22.8 billion by 2020. That number represents a lot of people consuming cannabis in many different ways.

The average cannabis consumer is changing. A new range of social groups is consuming cannabis-based products. From yoga diehards, to middle-aged men and women, veterans that have ‘tried everything else’ and young professionals looking for a different way to relax, the market is broadening.

This new segment of cannabis consumers are often not looking to get high- they are looking for anti-inflammatories, relaxants and ways of dealing with chronic pains and stress. For these health and wellness seekers, the last thing they want is a product dosed with pesticides, insecticides or butane residues. We can expect to see these consumers to follow broader consumption trends- specifically when it comes to a product like cannabis that people are inevitably placing in or on their bodies.

These consumers come with new sets of expectations, similar to those when they buy fruit, vegetables, coffee or chocolate. They are increasingly curious about the contents of the products they purchase- they are a large part of the reason that the sales of organic produce has ‘ballooned’. They are asking questions like: Does the product contain pesticides? Has the product been cultivated in a way that minimizes negative environmental impacts? How do we know that the supply chain quality controls are rigorous enough to ensure no one has tampered with the product? Who is growing and picking this product and how are those people being treated?

When a curious consumer enters a modern American supermarket, they are guided by a range of messages relating to the contents and supply chain that was part of making each product. Organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free, fair trade, free-range and locally produced are some of the common criteria. The more credible labels are supported by codes and procedures in which the whole supply chain is audited, monitored and approved by the certifying body according to certain standards- for example the USDA certifies organic foods.

Being a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, cannabis is probably not going to receive USDA organic certification any time soon. However there are organizations out there that are committed to increasing the availability of cannabis grown with organic practices. Certifying bodies like Certified Kind and the Organic Cannabis Growers Society are gaining popularity among growers who see the market evolving in that direction. At the same time, businesses such as Delicious Fog (an ‘organic-focussed’ delivery service in Santa Clara County) and Harvest (an ‘organic’ dispensary in San Francisco)- are specializing in the sale of these ‘organic’ cannabis products.

Just like any sustainability issue- ensuring your cannabis product comes from a well-managed supply chain cannot be a last minute add-on. Whether a business is small, large, mature or emerging, developing a strategic approach to the diverse spread of sustainability challenges is critical.

As a cannabis business what can you do to appeal to the new cannabis consumer?

Ask the Expert Series: Straight Talk on Safety, Defense and Security with Bruce Lesniak

By Aaron G. Biros, Bruce E. Lesniak
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This is the first part of a series dedicated to understanding more about defense, security and safety as they relate to the cannabis industry, the importance of having standards and some tips for cannabis business plans. Over the next few weeks, we will hear from multiple industry pioneers discussing those topics and offering practical solutions for problems that many cannabis businesses face daily.

Inconsistent laws across multiple states created a fragmented network of regulations for cannabis. Some third parties are filling the gaps between the industry standards and state regulations. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) and the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board’s i-502 rule provide guidance on regulations surrounding packaging and labeling, advertising, pesticide use, retail and other areas.

Still there are many opportunities to fill the gaps. The Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), is an independent non-profit founded to develop some consistency in standards governing public health, consumer safety and the environment. In cultivation, the third party certification, Clean Green Certified, works to provide some guidance for growing cannabis organically based on USDA organic standards. For laboratories, Washington’s regulations provide some guidance, but organizations like FOCUS, the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) and the Cannabis Safety Institute seek to fill the gaps in laboratory standards along with the ISO 17025 requirements.

Security and defense is one particular area of the cannabis industry that still needs a benchmark for businesses to follow. In this series, we sit down to discuss security, defense and safety with Bruce Lesniak, president of the Food Safety and Defense Institute and member of the oversight committee for the establishment of standards in the cannabis industry in conjunction with FOCUS.

Cannabis Industry Journal: What changes do you see coming to the cannabis industry related to product safety, defense and security? 

Bruce Lesniak: As in every industry that provides a public consumable product, the primary objective is to protect the consumer by providing products that are consistently safe. The largest change coming to the cannabis industry will be the implementation of enforceable, nationally uniform standards across all states and all product lines. I believe that the standards and regulations developed for the cannabis industry will mirror those of the food industry. Companies are already busy working to develop this uniform standard, one such group is FOCUS. Founded by Lezli Engelking, FOCUS works with diverse professionals from regulatory, quality assurance, medical, law enforcement, business, research, and the government officials, medical and research professionals along with subject matter experts from numerous business disciplines across the industry to develop impartial, comprehensive, cannabis specific standards that will be presented for adoption by state and federal governing bodies. Lezli summarizes the FOCUS Mission as “ To protect public health, consumer safety, and safeguard the environment by promoting integrity within the cannabis industry.” Look for more on this in our next Ask the Expert update, on CannabisIndustryJournal.com or you can contact Lezli Engelking at FOCUS here: 866-359-3557 x101.


This series will highlight important issues involving security, defense and safety in the cannabis industry. Next week, Bruce, along with cannabis security professional, Tony Gallo of Sapphire Protection, will provide some advice on what companies can do to improve their master business plan. Stay tuned for next week’s Part II of Ask the Expert: Straight Talk on Safety, Defense and Security with Bruce Lesniak.