“By achieving ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, TEQ Analytical Labs believes that we can address the concerns throughout the cannabis industry regarding insufficient and unreliable scientific analysis by providing our clients with state-required tests that are accredited by an international standard,” says Seth Wong, president of TEQ Analytical Laboratories. According to a TEQ Analytical press release, accreditation to this standard confirms that laboratories have the management, quality, and technical systems in place to ensure accurate and reliable analyses, as well as proper administrative processes to confirm that all aspects related to the sample, analysis and reporting are standardized, measured and monitored.
By implementing ISO 17025 accreditation, the laboratory monitors systems and processes central to analyses in an effort to minimize discrepancies and variability in test results. According to Roger Brauninger, biosafety program manager at A2LA, this type of accreditation demonstrates their competence and commitment to rigorous science. “It is encouraging to have testing laboratories taking ownership of the quality of the work performed,” says Brauninger. “Reliable testing will be imperative to insure safety of the products out on the market as this industry continues to expand.” As the first accreditation of its kind in North America, Brauninger hopes this will open the doors for more cannabis laboratories to acknowledge their role in demonstrating scientific competency for the industry.
Tripp Keber, president and chief executive officer of Dixie Brands, Inc., commends the achievement. “At Dixie Brands, we believe that cannabis is powerful, that quality is important, and that accurate dosing is of supreme importance,” says Keber. “Because Dixie is committed to delivering a safe, consistent, and accurately dosed product, lab testing is a vital component to our manufacturing processes.”
“TEQ’s achievement of ISO 17025 accreditation instills great confidence to Dixie Brands that our consumers’ health and safety is ensured and that they will enjoy a reliable and predictable experience with our product each and every time,” adds Keber. “Dixie’s strategic relationship with TEQ continues to build long-term brand value.” This kind of accreditation helps build trust in laboratories’ clients knowing they can provide accurate results repeatedly.
The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) and Americans for Safe Access (ASA) announced yesterday a collaboration to develop a cannabis-specific laboratory accreditation program based upon the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025 and ASA’ s Patient Focused Certification (PFC) Program. Accreditation under this program will offer the highest level of recognition and provide the most value to the laboratory and users of the products tested, according to a press release published yesterday. ASA is the largest medical cannabis patient advocacy group in the United States. “A2LA is pleased to partner with ASA to offer a cannabis testing laboratory accreditation program to ISO/IEC 17025 as well as the additional laboratory requirements from ASA’s Patient Focused Certification Program,” says Roger Brauninger, biosafety program manager at A2LA.
The program affirms that cannabis laboratories are compliant with state and local regulations and ensures that they adhere to the same standards that are followed by laboratories used and inspected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) among other regulatory bodies. The two non-profit organizations will offer their first joint training course at A2LA’s headquarters in Maryland from July 11th to the 15th. During this course, participants will receive training on PFC’s national standards for the cultivation, manufacture, dispensing, and testing of cannabis and cannabis products, combined with ISO/IEC 17025 training.
The guidelines for cannabis operations that serve as the basis for this accreditation program were issued by the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) Cannabis Committee, an industry stakeholder panel, and have already been adopted by sixteen states. “We are very excited to see the PFC program join the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation efforts to help fully establish a robust and reliable cannabis testing foundation,” says Jeffrey Raber, chief executive officer of The Werc Shop, a PFC-certified cannabis testing laboratory. “It is a great testament to ASA’s commitment to quality in their PFC program by partnering with a world-renowned accrediting body to set a new standard for cannabis testing labs.”
According to Kristin Nevedal, program director of PFC, this is an important first in the industry. “This new, comprehensive accreditation program affirms laboratory operations are meeting existing standards and best practices, adhering to the ISO/IEC 17025 criteria, and are compliant with state and local regulations,” says Nevedal. “This program is the first of its kind developed specifically for the cannabis industry, giving confidence to patients as well as regulators that their test results on these products are accurate and consistent.”
“The program will combine the expertise and resources of the country’s largest accreditation body with the scientific rigor and knowledge base of the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy group, benefitting the myriad of laboratories tasked with analyzing cannabis products,” says Nevedal. According to Brauninger, a cannabis-specific accreditation program is vital to the industry’s constantly shifting needs. “The ability to now offer a cannabis testing laboratory accreditation program that is tailored to address the unique concerns and issues of the industry will help to add the necessary confidence and trust in the reliability and safety of the cannabis products on the market,” says Brauninger. “Those laboratories that gain accreditation under this program will be demonstrating that they adhere to the most comprehensive and relevant set of criteria by their compliance to both the underlying framework of the internationally recognized ISO/IEC 17025:2005 quality management system standard and the specific guidelines issued by the AHPA Cannabis Committee.” This type of collaboration could represent a milestone in progress toward achieving a higher level of consumer safety in the cannabis industry.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recently implemented a set of temporary rules effective through June 28th of this year with the goal to establish a set of regulations for cannabis testing by October 1st. An investigation by The Oregonian highlighted some of the previous problems with cannabis testing in the state.
The most impactful rule changes include The NELAC Institute (TNI) mandatory standards for laboratories that the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP) will use to accredit labs. Initial rules in the Oregon medical cannabis program, HB 3460 from 2013, did not specify accreditation rules for cannabis testing.
ORELAP currently performs accreditation for lab testing under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The new cannabis testing rules will give ORELAP the authority to accredit and regulate cannabis labs in the state of Oregon.
Rodger Voelker, Ph.D., laboratory director of OG Analytical in Eugene, OR, believes these rules are monumental in establishing legitimacy in cannabis testing. “These new rules have major repercussions mainly because they require not only getting accreditation, but maintaining it with very strict requirements,” says Voelker. “That also includes procedural guidelines that very carefully outline the quality of laboratory practices and establishes a set of criteria for method validation.”
Voelker notes that two of the biggest changes are in quality control and data management. “The documentation they require is very thorough and strict with the idea that any aspect of an analysis can be replicated,” adds Voelker. “This is a real win for us in my opinion because now we have an agency that can issue the appropriate credentials as well as have the authority to make punitive measures.”
The timeline for implementation with temporary rules allows state regulators to work with laboratories to perform accreditation and bring laboratories up to speed. According to Shannon Swantek, ORELAP compliance specialist, products that dispensaries sell in medical and recreational markets are required to be tested under the new rules and in the analyte lists by an ORELAP accredited laboratory, starting on October 1st.
Swantek’s job is to accredit cannabis labs to the TNI standards, which is essentially very similar to ISO 17025, just with more prescriptive measures and the ability to pair with state agencies to enforce rules after accreditation. “The timeline for accreditation is dependent on how ready the lab is and how compliant they are to the TNI standard already,” says Swantek. “The culture had gotten so fraudulent that the legislature felt Oregon needed some serious, more strict rules in place.”
One of the biggest changes coming to Oregon cannabis testing is the new sampling requirement. “An accredited laboratory employee must take the sample because sampling is where a lack of training or outright fraud is skewing results, which occurs when a grower brings in a sample not representative of the batch,” adds Swantek. Sample preparation methods will also be required to be more robust to meet the action limits of pesticide testing in particular, helping to identify lower levels like parts-per-billion, according to Swantek.
Reports were also lacking key information in the past. The new rules will require more information such as the procedure used, the analyst carrying it out, dilution factors and any other information you need to theoretically reproduce the result. This will result in more accurate labels on products.
Many are concerned that the new lab testing requirements will raise the price of testing too much. In reality, those current prices are not realistic for accurate data, which points to the rampant fraud that ORELAP is trying to eradicate. “The old rules were written in such an ambiguous way that the prices were set by laboratories without a proper quality program or even without proper instrumentation,” says Swantek.
The accreditation process will require particularly robust quality control systems in labs. “Accreditation to the TNI Standard means that lab quality systems will require a documentation system, training procedures, record keeping, personnel requirements, organization details, proof of no conflicts of interest and corrective actions if noncompliant,” adds Swantek. “We single out each method or procedure, look at their raw data and proficiency testing and determine if they are meeting the technical requirements.”
According to Voelker, other industries have learned to adjust their costs with stringent lab testing rules. “I get that no one wants to pay more for lab testing, but the reality is that joining the world of commodities comes with additional costs to ensure consumer safety,” says Voelker. These rule changes will undoubtedly bring more consistency to Oregon’s cannabis industry with accurate lab testing and help the OHA shed more light on issues surrounding consumer safety.
Living in a world of ever-increasing interdependence and an era of limited state government, financial and human resources, it is imperative that those charged with protecting the health and safety of patients and users of medical and recreational cannabis products leverage what private sector institutions and existing frameworks already offer in setting up quality standards for laboratory testing operations. That this moment arrives now – at a point where state governments are being tasked with undertaking the most significant change in the regulation of this substance whilst the federal government appears unwilling to play a substantial role – makes this partnership both inevitable and absolutely necessary.
Accreditation is an internationally accepted conformity assessment tool for ensuring laboratory competence and confidence in the accuracy and reliability test data. The accreditation infrastructure is well-established through accreditation bodies (ABs) and the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC), supported by regional cooperative arrangements, including those of the Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC) and the Inter-American Accreditation Cooperation (IAAC). ILAC functions as a forum for harmonization of laboratory accreditation procedures and policies, thus reducing technical barriers to trade and promoting laboratory accreditation as a mechanism for establishing confidence in testing facilities. ILAC MRA signatory ABs are recognized, through a rigorous peer evaluation process, as competent to accredit testing organizations. All signatory ABs must meet the requirements of ISO/IEC 17011 and use ISO/IEC 17025 as the basis for accreditation of laboratories. In turn, under the ILAC MRA and the regional co-operations, competent laboratories are recognized globally, thus facilitating acceptance of the test results that accompany goods across international borders.
In other areas, such as the food supply and energy, both state and federal government have been an active participant in accreditation activities. According to The Administrative Conference of the United States in its Agency Use of Third-Party Programs to Assess Regulatory Compliance*, “…agencies in diverse areas of regulation have developed third-party programs to assess whether regulated entities are in compliance with regulatory standards and other requirements. Through these programs, third parties are charged with assessing the safety of imported food… Third parties also ensure that products labeled as organic and energy-efficient meet applicable federal standards. In these regulatory third-party programs, regulated entities generally contract with third parties to carry out product testing and other regulatory compliance assessment activities in the place of regulatory agencies. Regulatory agencies take on new roles in coordinating and overseeing these third-party actors.” While this reference largely deals with areas outside of cannabis regulation, it remains useful and relevant because of the manner in which cannabis products are used.
Traditionally, ABs have worked with regulators to establish specific technical requirements to supplement the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation framework. In this partnership, the AB is responsible for executing the assessment and accreditation process but the regulator retains responsibility for the ultimate decisions on the acceptance of that organization’s accreditation. In the example of our food supply and its various sources, governmental recognition of accreditation bodies operating in accordance with international standards is much more practical than government agencies themselves accrediting the individual testing organizations or ABs. Thus the public/private partnership paradigm: To assess regulatory compliance a Regulatory Agency approves ABs that accredit organizations that assess whether Regulated Entities or Regulated Products are in conformity with a Regulatory Standard.*
In this example, all of the organizations are treated equally by the regulatory agency since they use the same recognition criteria for ABs and the same accreditation requirements in the assessment of conformity assessment bodies. This approach would also provide consistency at a point in time where many states are grappling with trying to find the best quality standard to use and which, to date, has resulted in many different standards being chosen or considered for implementation. This is especially true when one looks at the requirements put into place by the “early adopter” states. However, in those states that have entered this area more recently, it seems clear that the consensus is use of ISO/IEC 17025 as the most appropriate quality management standard for testing laboratories.
There are many factors to consider when selecting a third party analytical laboratory:
Why are you testing?
Does a governing body require it?
Are you testing to meet compliance with industry trends?
Are you testing as supplemental protection to an in house laboratory operation?
Are your results being used to help you market your product?
Are the results being utilized for internal R&D?
What are you looking to get out of testing?
Perhaps it is a combination of all these things. Regardless, whomever you contract with for whatever reasons, it is important to understand what you are getting, know what you are entitled to, understand your results, and understand where you and your company remain vulnerable. You must also be prepared with a plan to handle adverse results. Testing at a third party analytical contract laboratory does not mean they assume all of your product’s or company’s liability, regardless of the lab’s reputation.
Ask your third party laboratory about any accreditations, certifications, and licenses that the lab should be accredited and/or certified for. Each state has different certifications and licensing requirements; make sure the entity you are using is licensed or certified for the services you need. Additionally, there is an accreditation called International Standards Organization (ISO) 17025 that is the pinnacle of third party laboratory accreditation. ISO 17025 is a set of protocols that your third party lab should follow to do everything it can to ensure your data is accurate and produced with reliable standards, control samples, matrix control samples and proficiency tests to verify the accuracy of the lab’s employees and methods, among a number of other criteria included in the standard. A number of different entities offer accreditation to ISO 17025 but it is important that the the accrediting body is also accredited to their ISO standard. Simply buying ISO 17025 compliant materials or standards does not mean that the vendor service or product is accredited to ISO 17025. Cannabis laboratories are just starting to implement and build systems around ISO 17025 but it has been prevalent in the third party lab business in many industries for decades and should be applied to the cannabis industry.
Visit your lab and understand their background and experience. Start by requesting a tour of the laboratory you choose; you want to know how things look behind the scenes. Is the lab orderly and doing its best to protect sample integrity? There may be a lot of things going on in the laboratory and it may look chaotic but it should be relatively clean. This prevents contamination and sample mix-ups. Further your relationship with your laboratory by understanding the laboratory’s experience and getting to know your laboratory staff. Consider the lab staff as part of your extended team, they are there to help you and help bring your product to market. The more they understand your goals, the more they can help.
Understand your lab’s history and background: Have they worked with products and/or analytes similar to yours? Have they worked with your sample matrix or one similar to it before? Their prior knowledge and laboratory experience, as it relates to your product, will help provide accurate data and navigate complex matrices.
Most importantly, a laboratory should be willing to release the data packet that is used to generate test results to the client. Releasing this data does not divulge any proprietary information of the lab. It is the laboratory’s job to provide you with the data upon request. It is important to note, looking at your raw data is not the same as looking at the laboratory method, also known as a work instruction or operating procedure. The lab most likely won’t give you the method as those are typically trade secrets, but there is no reason not to share with you the chromatography that the HPLC, GC, GC/MS, or LC/MS generated. This will demonstrate the lab’s sound analytical data and increase your confidence in the analysis you are receiving. When you pay for the results, you are also paying for your data and if your laboratory is not releasing that information to you at your request, you should be skeptical. This data needs to be able to stand up to audits and legal action.
Finally, confidentiality: your data is your data. Yes, you may have to report results to a governing body, but your laboratory should not be sharing your name and your data with anyone but your authorized list of contacts without your permission. They should not even disclose that you are their client without your prior authorization. Confidentiality is not just applicable to a few key employees at the laboratory, it is pertinent to everyone from the sample pickup driver, if you have one, to the chemists and upper level management.
Understanding your contract laboratory’s certifications, licenses, and accreditations, requesting and receiving raw data packages, and ensuring that you feel comfortable with the laboratory, its staff and their practices are key elements to ensuring a successful relationship with your laboratory.