According to the press release, the two organizations hope to promote “foundational standards for quality control testing and regulatory guidelines that promote product safety.” Both organizations will advocate for the adoption of industry standards they deem appropriate for recreational and medical cannabis as well as hemp testing in the United States.
Michael Bronstein, executive director of ATACH, says there is an urgent need for open-source consensus standards and standard test methods for cannabis testing. “In an industry that lacks standard test methods and where testing is such a crucial part of the regulatory landscape, the need for open-source consensus standards is especially significant,” says Bronstein. “The development and adoption of standard test methods for cannabis testing is essential in ensuring consistency between laboratories, encouraging uniformity in state testing regulation, and providing a safe and consistent product to consumers.”
The press release also states that A2LA and ATACH seek to “develop regulation and adopt industry standards with goals of advancing and professionalizing the industry.”
Can the laboratory accurately analyze sample products like my sample?
Can the laboratory reproduce the sample results for my type of sample?
Now let’s discuss the most important QC test that will protect your crop and business. That QC sample is the Matrix Sample. In the last article in this series, you were introduced to many QC samples. The Matrix Sample and Duplicate were some of them. Take a look back at Part 3 to familiarize yourself with the definitions.
The key factors of these QC sample types are:
Your sample is used to determine if the analysis used by the laboratory can extract the analyte that is being reported back to you. This is performed by the following steps:
Your sample is analyzed by the laboratory as received.
Then a sub-sample of your sample is spiked with a known concentration of the analyte you are looking for (e.g. pesticides, bacteria, organic chemicals, etc.).
The difference between the sample with and without a spike indicates whether the laboratory can even find the analyte of concern and whether the percent recovery is acceptable.
Examples of failures are from my experiences:
Laboratory 1 spiked a known amount of a pesticide into a wastewater matrix. (e.g. Silver into final treatment process water). The laboratory failed to recover any of the spiked silver. Therefore the laboratory results for these types of sample were not reporting any silver, but silver may be present. This is where laboratory results would be false negatives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly. .
Laboratory 2 ran an analysis for a toxic compound (e.g. Cyanide in final waste treatment discharge). A known amount of cyanide was spiked into a matrix sample and 4 times the actual concentration of that cyanide spike was recovered. This is where laboratory results would be called false positives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly.
Can the laboratory reproduce the results they reported to you?
The laboratory needs to repeat the matrix spike analysis to provide duplicate results. Then a comparison of the results from the first matrix spike with its duplicate results will show if the laboratory can duplicate their test on your sample.
If the original matrix spike result and the duplicate show good agreement (e.g. 20% relative percent difference or lower). Then you can be relatively sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is true.
But, if the original matrix spike result and the duplicate do not show good agreement (e.g. greater than 20% relative percent difference). Then you can be sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is not true and you should question the laboratory’s competence.
Now, the question is why a laboratory would not perform these matrix spike and duplicate QC samples? Well, the following may apply:
These matrix samples take too much time.
These matrix samples add a cost that the laboratory cannot recover.
These matrix samples are too difficult for the laboratory staff to perform.
Most importantly: Matrix samples show the laboratory cannot perform the analyses correctly on the matrix.
So, what types of cannabis matrices are out there? Some examples include bud, leaf, oils, extracts and edibles. Those are some of the matrices and each one has their own testing requirements. So, what should you require from your laboratory?
The laboratory must use your sample for both a matrix spike and a duplicate QC sample.
The percent recovery of both the matrix spike and the duplicate will be between 80% and 120%. If either of the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples reanalyzed.
If the relative percent difference between the matrix spike and the duplicate will be 20% or less. If the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples should be reanalyzed.
The impact of questionable laboratory results on your business with failing or absent matrix spike and the duplicate QC samples can be prevented. It is paramount that you hold the laboratory responsible to produce results that are representative of your sample matrix and that are true.
The next article will focus on how your business will develop a quality plan for your laboratory service provider with a specific focus on the California Code Of Regulations, Title 16, Division 42. Bureau Of Cannabis Control requirements.
CBC, a cannabinoid typically seen in hemp and CBD-rich plants, has been linked to some potentially impactful medical applications, much like the findings regarding the benefits of CBD. The module that tests for it, along with terpenes and degraded THC, can be added to the LightLab without any changes to hardware or sample preparation.
According to Dylan Wilks, chief technology officer of Orange Photonics, this could be a particularly useful tool for distillate producers looking for extra quality controls. Cannabis distillates are some of the most prized cannabis products around, but the heat used to create them can also create undesirable compounds,” says Wilks. “Distillate producers can see potency drop more than 25% if their process isn’t optimized”. With this new Terpenes+ Module, a distillate producer could quantify degraded THC content and get an accurate reading for their QC/QA department.
We spoke with Stephanie McArdle, president of Orange Photonics, to learn more about their instruments designed for quality assurance for growers and extractors alike.
According to McArdle, this could help cultivators and processors understand and value their product when terpene-rich products are the end goal. “Rather than try to duplicate the laboratory analysis, which would require expensive equipment and difficult sample preparation, we took a different approach. We report all terpenes as a single total terpene number,” says McArdle. “The analyzer only looks for monoterpenes (some common monoterpenes are myrcene, limonene and alpha-pinene), and not sesquiterpenes (the other major group of cannabis terpenes, such as Beta- Caryophyllene and Humulene) so the analysis is semi-quantitative. What we do is measure the monoterpenes and make an assumption that the sesquiterpenes are similar to an average cannabis plant to calculate a total terpene content.” She says because roughly 80% of terpenes found in cannabis are monoterpenes, this should produce accurate results, though some exotic strains may not result in accurate terpene content using this method.
As growers look to make their product unique in a highly competitive market, many are looking at terpenes as a source of differentiation. There are a variety of areas where growers can target higher terpene production, McArdle says. “During production, a grower may want to select plants for growing based on terpene content, or adjust nutrient levels, lighting, etc. to maximize terpenes,” says McArdle. “During the curing process, adjusting the environmental conditions to maximize terpene content is highly desirable.” Terpenes are also beginning to get recognized for their potential medical and therapeutic values as well, notably as an essential piece in the Entourage Effect. “Ultimately, it comes down to economics – terpene rich products have a higher market value,” says McArdle. “If you’re the grower, you want to prove that your product is superior. If you’re the buyer, you want to ensure the product you buy is high quality before processing it into other products. In both cases, knowing the terpene content is critical to ensuring you’re maximizing profits.”
Orange Photonics’ LightLab operates very similarly to instruments you might find in a cannabis laboratory. Many cannabis testing labs use High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to analyze hemp or cannabis samples. “The primary difference between LightLab and an HPLC is that we operate at lower pressures and rely on spectroscopy more heavily than a typical HPLC analysis does,” says McArdle. “Like an HPLC, LightLab pushes an extracted cannabis sample through a column. The column separates the cannabinoids in the sample by slowing down cannabinoids by different amounts based on their affinity to the column.” McArdle says this is what allows each cannabinoid to exit the column at a different time. “For example, CBD may exit the column first, then D9THC and so on,” says McArdle. “Once the column separates the cannabinoids, they are quantified using optical spectroscopy- basically we are using light to do the final quantification.”
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.
Do not be discouraged by the analytical jargon of the next few articles. I suggest that you go immediately to the conclusions to get the meat of this article and then read the rest of it to set you on the path to see the forest for the trees.
QC in a laboratory consists of a series of samples run by the laboratory to determine the accuracy and precision of a specific batch of samples. So, to start off, let’s look at the definitions of accuracy and precision.QC Charts can provide a detailed overview of laboratory performance in a well-run laboratory.
Accuracy: estimate of how close a measured value is to the true value; includes expressions for bias and precision.
Precision: a measure of the degree of agreement among replicate analyses of a sample.
A reputable laboratory will measure the Accuracy and Precision of QC samples in a batch of user samples and record these values in both the analytical test report issued to the user and in control charts kept by the laboratory. These control charts can be reviewed by the user if they are requested by the user. These control charts record:
Accuracy (means) chart: The accuracy chart for QC samples (e.g., LRB, CCV, LFBs, LFMs, and surrogates) is constructed from the average and standard deviation of a specified number of measurements of the analyte of interest.
Precision (range) chart: The precision chart also is constructed from the average and standard deviation of a specified number of measurements (e.g., %RSD or RPD) for replicate of duplicate analyses of the analyte of interest.
Now, let’s look at what should be run in a sample batch for cannabis analyses. The typical cannabis sample would have analyses for cannabinoids, terpenes, microbiological, organic compounds, pesticides and heavy metals.
Each compound listed above would require a specific validated analytical method for the type of matrix being analyzed. Examples of specific matrixes are:
Cannabis buds, leaves, oil
Edibles, such as Chocolates, Baked Goods, Gummies, Candies and Lozenges, etc.
Topicals, such as lotions, creams, etc.
Running QC analyses does not guarantee that the user’s specific sample in the batch was analyzed correctly.
Also, both ISO 17025-2005 and ISO 17025-2017 require the use of a validated method.
ISO 17025-2005: When it is necessary to use methods not covered by standard methods, these shall be subject to agreement with the customer and shall include a clear specification of the customer’s requirements and the purpose of the test and/or calibration. The method developed shall have been validated appropriately before use.
ISO 17025-2017: The laboratory shall validate non-standard methods, laboratory-developed methods and standard methods used outside their intended scope or otherwise modified. The validation shall be as extensive as is necessary to meet the needs of the given application or field of application.
The laboratory must have on file for user review the following minimum results in an analytical statistical report validating their method:
limit of quantitation,
precision,The user must look beyond the QC data provided in their analytical report or laboratory control charts.
linearity (or other calibration model),
confirmation of identity
limit of detection,
The interpretation of an analytical statistical report will be discussed in detail in the next article. Once the validated method has been selected for the specific matrix, then a sample batch is prepared for analysis.
Sample Batch: A sample batch is defined as a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of twenty (20) analytical samples run during a normal analyst’s daily shift. A LRB, LFB, LFM, LFMD, and CCV will be run with each sample batch. Failure of any QC sample in sample batch will require a corrective action and may require the sample batch to be reanalyzed. The definitions of the specific QC samples are described later.
The typical sample batch would be set as:
Instrument Start Up
Calibration Standards, Quadratic
Sample used for LFM/LFMD
Samples (First half of batch)
Samples (Second half of batch)
The QC samples are defined as:
Calibration Blank: A volume of reagent water acidified with the same acid matrix as in the calibration standards. The calibration blank is a zero standard and is used to calibrate the ammonia analyzer
Continuing Calibration Verification (CCV): A calibration standard, which is analyzed periodically to verify the accuracy of the existing calibration for those analytes.
Calibration Standard: A solution prepared from the dilution of stock standard solutions. These solutions are used to calibrate the instrument response with respect to analyte concentration
Laboratory Fortified Blank (LFB): An aliquot of reagent water or other blank matrix to which known quantities of the method analytes and all the preservation compounds are added. The LFB is processed and analyzed exactly like a sample, and its purpose is to determine whether the methodology is in control, and whether the laboratory is capable of making accurate and precise measurements.
Laboratory Fortified Sample Matrix/Duplicate (LFM/LFMD) also called Matrix Spike/Matrix Spike Duplicate (MS/MSD): An aliquot of an environmental sample to which known quantities of ammonia is added in the laboratory. The LFM is analyzed exactly like a sample, and its purpose is to determine whether the sample matrix contributes bias to the analytical results. The background concentrations of the analytes in the sample matrix must be determined in a separate aliquot and the measured values in the LFM corrected for background concentrations (Section 9.1.3).Laboratories must validate their methods.
Laboratory Reagent Blank (LRB): A volume of reagent water or other blank matrix that is processed exactly as a sample including exposure to all glassware, equipment, solvents and reagents, sample preservatives, surrogates and internal standards that are used in the extraction and analysis batches. The LRB is used to determine if the method analytes or other interferences are present in the laboratory environment, the reagents, or the apparatus.
Once a sample batch is completed, then some of the QC results are provided in the user’s analytical report and all of the QC results should be recorded in the control charts identified in the accuracy and precision section above.
But having created a batch and performing QC sample analyses, the validity of the user’s analytical results is still not guaranteed. Key conclusion points to consider are:
Laboratories must validate their methods.
Running QC analyses does not guarantee that the user’s specific sample in the batch was analyzed correctly.
QC Charts can provide a detailed overview of laboratory performance in a well-run laboratory.
The user must look beyond the QC data provided in their analytical report or laboratory control charts. Areas to look at will be covered in the next few articles in this series.
In late November, California released their proposed emergency regulations for the cannabis industry, ahead of the full 2018 medical and adult use legalization for the state. We highlighted some of the key takeaways from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s regulations for the entire industry earlier. Now, we are going to take a look at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) cannabis manufacturing regulations.
According to the summary published by the CDPH, business can have an A-type license (for products sold on the adult use market) and an M-type license (products sold on the medical market). The four license types in extraction are as follows:
Type 7: Extraction using volatile solvents (butane, hexane, pentane)
Type 6: Extraction using a non-volatile solvent or mechanical method
(food-grade butter, oil, water, ethanol, or carbon dioxide)
Type N: Infusions (using pre-extracted oils to create edibles, beverages,
capsules, vape cartridges, tinctures or topicals)
Type P: Packaging and labeling only
As we discussed in out initial breakdown of the overall rules, California’s dual licensing system means applicants must get local approval before getting a state license to operate.
The rules dictate a close-loop system certified by a California-licensed engineer when using carbon dioxide or a volatile solvent in extraction. They require 99% purity for hydrocarbon solvents. Local fire code officials must certify all extraction facilities.
In the realm of edibles, much like the rule that Colorado recently implemented, infused products cannot be shaped like a human, animal, insect, or fruit. No more than 10mg of THC per serving and 100mg of THC per package is allowed in infused products, with the exception of tinctures, capsules or topicals that are limited to 1,000 mg of THC for the adult use market and 2,000 mg in the medical market. This is a rule very similar to what we have seen Washington, Oregon and Colorado implement.
On a somewhat interesting note, no cannabis infused products can contain nicotine, caffeine or alcohol. California already has brewers and winemakers using cannabis in beer and wine, so it will be interesting to see how this rule might change, if at all.
The rules for packaging and labeling are indicative of a major push for product safety, disclosure and differentiating cannabis products from other foods. Packaging must be opaque, cannot resemble other foods packaged, not attractive to children, tamper-evident, re-sealable if it has multiple servings and child-resistant. The label has to include nutrition facts, a full ingredient list and the universal symbol, demonstrating that it contains cannabis in it. “Statute requires that labels not be attractive to individuals under age 21 and include mandated warning statements and the amount of THC content,” reads the summary. Also, manufacturers cannot call their product a candy.
Foods that require refrigeration and any potentially hazardous food, like meat and seafood, cannot be used in cannabis product manufacturing. They do allow juice and dried meat and perishable ingredients like milk and eggs as long as the final product is up to standards. This will seemingly allow for baked goods to be sold, as long as they are packaged prior to distribution.
Perhaps the most interesting of the proposed rules are requiring written standard operating procedures (SOPs) and following good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Per the new rules, the state will require manufacturers to have written SOPs for waste disposal, inventory and quality control, transportation and security.
According to Donavan Bennett, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Cannabis Quality Group, California is taking a page from the manufacturing and life science industry by requiring SOPs. “The purpose of an SOP is straightforward: to ensure that essential job tasks are performed correctly, consistently, and in conformance with internally approved procedures,” says Bennett. “Without having robust SOPs, how can department managers ensure their employees are trained effectively? Or, how will these department managers know their harvest is consistently being grown? No matter the employee or location.” California requiring written SOPs can potentially help a large number of cannabis businesses improve their operations. “SOPs set the tempo and standard for your organization,” says Bennett. “Without effective training and continuous improvement of SOPs, operators are losing efficiency and their likelihood of having a recall is greater.”
Bennett also says GMPs, now required by the state, can help companies keep track of their sanitation and cleanliness overall. “GMPs address a wide range of production activities, including raw material, sanitation and cleanliness of the premises, and facility design,” says Bennett. “Auditing internal and supplier GMPs should be conducted to ensure any deficiencies are identified and addressed. The company is responsible for the whole process and products, even for the used and unused products which are produced by others.” Bennett recommends auditing your suppliers at least twice annually, checking their GMPs and quality of raw materials, such as cannabis flower or trim prior to extraction.
“These regulations are only the beginning,” says Bennett. “As the consumer becomes more educated on quality cannabis and as more states come online who derives a significant amount of their revenue from the manufacturing and/or life science industries (e.g. New Jersey), regulations like these will become the norm.” Bennett’s Cannabis Quality Group is a provider of cloud quality management software for the cannabis industry.
“Think about it this way: Anything you eat today or any medicine you should take today, is following set and stringent SOPs and GMPs to ensure you are safe and consuming the highest quality product. Why should the cannabis industry be any different?”
Formed in 2015, Outco is a vertically integrated, licensed producer of medical cannabis in Southern California. Outco manages Outliers Collective, the first licensed dispensary continually operating in San Diego County. They operate the first licensed cultivation on Native American land in Southern California, the first cultivation building permit in Southern California and the first licensed extraction facility in San Diego County. Outco is on track to be the largest licensed producer of medical cannabis in Southern California.
The company prides themselves on attention to detail; the well versed team implements real science in their cultivation and extraction processes. Lincoln Fish, co-founder and chief executive officer of Outco, has more than 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur. Before entering the cannabis industry, Linc started and sold companies in the healthcare technology and nutraceutical spaces.
Fish’s experience with FDA regulations in nutraceuticals prepared him for running a business in such a tumultuous, highly regulated environment like cannabis. “One thing I took from the nutraceutical industry is how to present products to consumers and letting them know it is safe, effective and consistent,” says Fish. He says he noticed a serious lack of consistency in products. They tested 25 different vape cartridges, with their own oil, to find a consistent product they can use and know that consumers will safely and consistently get the same results. “There is a lot of room for more professionals and a lot of room for more science,” says Fish. “We try to position ourselves in a way that is consistent with where we think policy will go so we are very careful with recommendations from a scientific standpoint, patient information and product safety.”
According to Fish, they currently distribute cannabis products to about 75 licensed dispensaries in Orange County, San Diego and Los Angeles. With construction underway at their cultivation facility on Native American land, Fish says they plan to generate roughly 2600 pounds of cannabis each month. Gearing up for that in addition to the expanding recreational market requires some planning in advance, says Fish. Part of that plan is making sure quality controls are in place to keep consistency in the product quality and dosage. They are also actively seeking to open their distribution channels further.
“We are building out a full lab of our own in addition to third party testing to perform internal quality controls,” says Fish. Equipped with their own laboratory instrumentation like HPLC and GC, they hope to establish proper in-house quality controls as well as provide that resource to younger startup companies. As one of the founding partners of Canopy San Diego, an ancillary startup accelerator, Fish sees great potential in working with younger companies to get them off the ground. Fish met Outco’s vice president of extraction, Dr. Markus Roggen, at a Canopy San Diego event. It was there that they had the idea to build a startup accelerator for companies that actually touch the plant- extractors, cultivators and infused-product manufacturers, as opposed to a startup accelerator that would only help ancillary businesses.
Dr. Roggen, who is an organic chemist by training, heads up Outco’s supercritical CO2 extraction operation. “I came to the ‘art’ of cannabis extraction with an open, yet scientifically focused mind,” says Dr. Roggen. “My approach was to look past the myths and stories about extraction methods and focus on finding data, as there really wasn’t much available. I therefore, from the beginning, started to study the capabilities of our extraction equipment by chemometric methods.” Chemometrics is the science of relating measurements made on a chemical system or process to the state of the system via applications of mathematical methods. “Already the first sets of experiments showed that long-held beliefs in the cannabis community were inaccurate,” says Dr. Roggen. “For example the particle size of extracted material matters. Or that it is possible to preserve and even isolate terpenes by CO2 extraction methods.” With plans to have a full plant and analytical chemistry laboratory on site, they hope to perform more research that focuses on optimizing extraction processes.
Dr. Allison Justice leads their cultivation team with a background in greenhouse management and commercial horticulture. Dr. Justice says plants are grown, starting at a young age (seed or vegetative cutting), with the protection of biological control agents. “Biological control is a management strategy that entails the release of beneficial insects or fungi, such as parasitoids and predators, in order to suppress or regulate insect populations in greenhouses and grow rooms,” says Dr. Justice.
When implemented properly, this eliminates the need to use synthetic pesticides. “Biological control agents are not put in place to eradicate pest populations yet are applied as preventives to minimize plant damage and maintain their own populations.” They are constantly evaluating light types, spectrum and intensity to determine optimal ranges, according to Dr. Justice. They don’t use any pre-mixed “cannabis” nutrient supplements for their plants, instead they design an experiment to determine the desired levels and ratios of essential plant nutrients. “We have found it crucial to determine what ratios of nutrients the plant actually needs and by knowing this, we know how to manipulate the recipe determined by the plant’s given nutritional symptoms,” says Dr. Justice. Every type of adjustment in cultivation and extraction is based on results from experimentation rooted in legitimate science. Instead of guessing when it might be time to harvest, they use a water activity meter, logging and recording all the data to determine the appropriate time to trim and cure plants. Performing analytical testing at every step is key, says Fish.
Looking toward the recreational market, Fish sees an obvious opportunity to expand their wholesale operations substantially, with several larger new cultivation projects planned. “The key though is to produce flower and concentrate offerings with the same standards we employ for medical cannabis,” says Fish.
Dan Anglin, a Marine Corps veteran and chairman of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, is the founder and chief executive officer of Americanna, an infused products business in Colorado with a heavy focus on regulatory compliance, consistent dosing and product safety. The company was the very first to implement the THC stamp, a requirement for all infused products in Colorado this coming October 1st.
As a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Anglin began his career as a legislative analyst in Arizona, and then moved to Colorado where he worked for the Colorado Legislative Council. Soon after, he became a lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. With a focus on health policy, he became the primary lobbyist for anything related to healthcare at the state level.
After running his own lobbying firm, he was hired by EdiPure, which was at the time the largest infused product manufacturer, to lobby against an amendment in the state legislature that would have all but shut down the infused products industry. Within six months, he was made a partner and co-owner of EdiPure for almost three years where he focused on regulatory compliance and legislative matters. In April of 2015, Anglin left EdiPure to buy Boulder Pharma with Frank Falconer, rebranding the company as Americanna making primarily edible products.
According to him, over the past few years, public opinion has grown in favor of differentiating cannabis products from other food products beyond just the packaging. Anglin said he saw this coming and embraced it as a core concept of his business model. Americanna produces gummies in the shape of a cannabis leaf with the THC stamp on each individual gummy. “This is a matter of public safety that you can clearly tell it is a cannabis product by its shape and symbol,” says Anglin. “We should be proud of cannabis products as an expression of American liberty, it is our duty not to hide it in an unrecognizable food product, but celebrate it with a clear shape and stamp, providing for consumer safety.” In this Q&A, we sit down with Dan Anglin to learn about his quality and safety controls, manufacturing processes and why his business embodies American freedom.
CannabisIndustryJournal: How do you see what you are doing as exercising your American liberties?
Dan Anglin: I served my country and protected the rights of Americans overseas. Because the people of Colorado have chosen this [adult use cannabis legalization] to be a right expressed in the state constitution, I feel that every day our 38 employees come to work and make cannabis products, we are exercising our rights as citizens of Colorado and of the United States.
The adult use side of the cannabis industry is a true expression of liberty in choice. This is what freedom is all about! In the past five years, the United States has given more and more groups of people more freedoms and liberties; this is another group of people that believe they deserve rights, in this case the liberty to consume cannabis freely.
This is an issue of states’ rights too. The people of Colorado voted to make the adult use of cannabis a right in their state constitution. We are abiding by the Cole Memo by doing everything we can to protect public safety. There is still a long way to go, but the fact that my employees and I are paying taxes and selling this in a regulated environment is absolutely an expression of our American liberty.
CIJ: Walk us through some of your quality controls in manufacturing infused products.
Dan: We have a contract manufacturer with a white label agreement, so our food products are of the same quality as any food product you would find in major retailers. Quality controls begin as soon as we unpack the food product, making sure it has been stored at the right temperature with all of the right conditions. We toss any products that do not meet our quality standards. Post-infusion, we go into packaging and separate them into flavors. As packagers are putting them into the child resistant packaging as required by law, they are doing QC checks on every single gummy.
The most important part of our quality control system is the testing for potency, homogeneity and microbial contamination. Post-harvest, the cannabis is tested and after it is extracted, the product is tested again but this time also for residual solvents. Once we infuse the product, we test it again. This is so important because making any type of food product requires doing everything you can to prevent bacterial contamination.
CIJ: How do you view cannabis safety as your responsibility?
Dan: Frank and I developed the business based on compliance and consistency. We already comply with rules expected to be enforced six months from now. We want consumers to be able to count on the consistency of the dosing in our products. Our semi-automated process of infusion can precisely dose every single product to ten milligrams. It is an infusion that soaks through the product, not a spray, and is one of the most homogenous products available.
Because we are creating food products, we have the same responsibility as any other food producer. When you make something that people ingest, it is your responsibility to follow health codes that provide guidelines for food handling. Every one of my employees is ServSafe certified. We are treating cannabis as an ingredient in a food product. Food safety is paramount and should be at the top of every infused product manufacturer’s mind.
Terra Tech, with the recent acquisition of Blum, a dispensary in Oakland, and the line of concentrates, IVXX, is sweeping the cannabis industry by setting standards for safety and quality. Terra Tech, publicly traded in theOver-The-Counter market, is well known as an agricultural company, with the subsidiary brand, Edible Garden, selling produce to Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Kroger’s. In December of last year, we covered Terra Tech’s entrance into the cannabis marketplace and their experience with large-scale, sustainable agriculture. We sit down with Derek Peterson, chief executive officer of Terra Tech, to get an update on their progress and quality controls.
CannabisIndustryJournal: In January, Terra Tech announced revenue guidance of $20-22 million for 2016. Can you share some of your strategy going forward to meet your goals?
Derek Peterson: We have always played both a long game as well as a short game, meaning while we are building our longer term business, like in Nevada, we are also focusing on short term accretive acquisitions, like we did with Blum in Oakland. We want to make sure we capture short-term revenue growth while we plan our future revenue production. We feel confident about achieving those results.
CIJ: How big of a role does the acquisition of Blum and IVXX brand expansion play in meeting those goals?
Derek: Blum is a significant factor even though we are only capturing three quarters of revenue considering we closed the deal on March 31st of this year. So for the full year of 2017 we will have growth from this level considering we will be able to report a full year of Blum revenue. IVXX presents us with the best opportunity for growth in the coming years. As the market in California and Nevada grows we can continue to expand our IVXX footprint throughout the state. Being able to wholesale to thousands of other retail facilities affords us a significant opportunity to grow our sales.
CIJ: How do you think the brand of Edible Garden positions you well for expansion in the cannabis industry?
Derek: One of the reasons we were so successful in the Nevada market was because regulators and legislators felt a high degree of confidence in our abilities considering we are USDA organic, Kosher and GFSI-certified. Our traditional agricultural experience has been very synergistic with our cannabis division from both an optics and operational perspective.
CIJ: Could you give us an update on progress in Medifarm LLC in Nevada? And on your distribution plan for IVXX in California?
Derek: We are continuing to expand our IVXX line throughout the state and increasing our sales force. In addition we will continue to develop new products to distribute into our existing supply chain, like we just did with our new pre filled cartridge line.
We are opening our Decatur location in Las Vegas in early July and Reno and Desert Inn towards the end of August. Our cultivation and extraction facilities should be complete no later than January 2017. We will have our entire infrastructure in place if the recreational bill passes in Nevada this November.
CIJ: Tell us about the role of laboratory testing in your business.
Derek: Laboratories play a significant role, as they are becoming a mandated step in most new legislation around the company. Independent lab testing is extremely important to maintain safe access for consumers and patients. We work primarily with Steep Hill Labs and CW analytics.
CIJ: Can you expand on your integrated pest management and your growing practices?
Derek: Well we cannot say organic, however we do cultivate all naturally. We also cultivate traditional produce that we sell to major retailers. We are USDA organic-certified and we implement similar processes in our cannabis cultivation. Pest control is extremely challenging for any farmer but we rely primarily on bio control, meaning the good bugs eat the bad bugs. This has been very effective for us in the cultivation of all our products.
CIJ: How is your business different from the slew of other dispensaries and growers in California?
Derek: Service and consistency; we have over 42,000 registered patients and our operations team has over 19 years of experience in California. One of the reasons we have become one of the largest dispensaries in the state is because of that experience. In addition, consistency is extremely important. Consumers expect the same product in every other business and ours is no different. If they come in for our Platinum Cookies one month and the next month it has different characteristics you are going to lose patient confidence. So in the front of the house, we are focused on pairing patients’ needs with the correct product and in the back of the house we are focused on providing a meticulously cultivated product, produced at the highest standards.
CIJ: Can you delve into some of the processing for concentrates? How do you meet such rigorous quality standards?
Derek: Through research and development, we have engineered a proprietary process in which our solvent profiles used under our proprietary conditions ensures solvent residual levels which are not detected by instrumentation at 3rd party testing agencies such as Steep Hill Labs. In addition, any good scientific method requires repetition and corroboration of results. In order to accomplish this we also rely on random routine testing in which we send out extracts out to other 3rd party testing labs. Proprietary conditions include, but are not limited to, heat, vacuum, agitation, etc. By utilizing the correct amalgamation of solvent profiles, extraction conditions, purging conditions, as well as rigorous quality control standards, we are able to ensure a product that is void of any residual solvents, without sacrificing potency or identity of the cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids and terpenes are of chief interest when extracting cannabis for patients so that they have access to these essential oils without any of the actual leaf and bud.
All solvents used are the highest grade available to us, which ensures a truly medical product for the patient. In addition, all of our extraction equipment is routinely cleaned and sterilized using medical grade cleaning agents.
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.
A lot has changed since last year’s article, “Marijuana Edibles: A Regulatory Nightmare.” Marijuana has since catapulted into mainstream thinking via activism, state decriminalization, and medical reforms while investors and banks are beginning to trust the market more, further legitimizing the nascent industry. According to an article from the Washington Post, Colorado’s legal marijuana industry reached $700 million in 2014 and is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2016.
Innovators are beginning to analyze trends on a national level, looking toward federal rescheduling of the drug as a catalyst for more state reforms and wider legalization measures. Federal legalization is in the back of many minds, as the introduction of pivotal state and federal legislative reforms promises more access to banking services, medical research, and more state independence.
While a black market mentality remains prevalent, widespread state reforms, increased venture capital investment, and further legitimization of an industry with less barriers of entry have fostered a perceived reduction in risk. States like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado that have already legalized marijuana for recreational and medical sales are beginning to implement strict packaging rules, requirements for traceability, QA programs, testing and laboratory monitoring requirements, and other regulations that would suggest FDA oversight down the road.
State regulatory bodies such as the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) have matured and expanded their oversight to include certifications and requirements for lab testing and analysis. Marijuana testing facilities can now be certified by the MED to test for residual solvents, poisons or toxins, harmful chemicals, dangerous molds, mildew or filth, harmful microbials such as E. coli or Salmonella, pesticides, and THC levels and Cannabinoid potency.
According to an article from theCannabist.com, edible marijuana took 45% of the market share in 2014 and continues to grow, proving that food manufacturers and processors will gain a bigger share of the market.
BioTrackTHC develops a seed-to-sale traceability system that is the state-mandated reporting system used by any business that touches the plant in compliance with Washington’s i502 regulations (The company also won the contract bid for New Mexico’s and New York’s state-run traceability systems). “From day one, all retail products under i502, including infused edibles, must have laboratory-submitted passing test results and data in the traceability system before it can be unlocked for shipment to retailers,” says Patrick Vo, CEO of BioTrackTHC.
Regulations, especially those addressing traceability, are crucial for advancing the industry and fighting the black market, performing recalls, and improving product quality and safety. Vo adds, “As more states adopt a centralized traceability system, food safety will improve as we see the industry grow.”
“Most of the marijuana edibles producers we advise are working comfortably within their state health department regulations versus a year ago when they were struggling to implement routine compliance,” says Stephen Goldner, CEO of Regulatory Affairs Associates. “But there is a long way to go to make this new marketplace meet the standards routinely met by US food producers in other markets such as nutritional supplements and medical foods.”
Many edible producers are sadly mistaken to ignore FDA labeling and production regulations just because the producer only ships within their own state, according to Goldner. “Whenever FDA has found label or food safety violations of products, whether they are food, drugs or any other product, it has always acted quickly to seize the product, inspect the producer and insist that violative labeling or production practices be remedied,” he says, adding that it won’t be surprising to see FDA start to “seize marijuana-infused food products that make drug claims, especially from the leading current producers” as a way for the agency to insert itself into the inspection and compliance process. “These companies need to have FDA food GMP’s solidly in place and properly documented,” says Goldner.
“Those who have experienced the most consistent and long term success in this industry are those who play above board, those who take the extra effort and make the investment in effort, time, and money to treat their business as if it was already federally legal and had to adhere to standards that other industries must follow,” says Vo. He agrees with the view held by many that long term planning is vital in this industry. “Those who have implemented best practices, QA programs, and traceability software will succeed in the long run, and the bad actors will eventually, by their own poor practices, be filtered out by regulatory and market forces.”
In the near future, the industry will look to other states in regulatory experiments on opposite sides of the spectrum. “New York, which legalized medical marijuana in 2014, is handing out 5 licenses to operate 4 dispensaries each, and allowing licensees to have a grow facility to supply their respective dispensaries. The Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health will have authority on licensing, testing, and medical requirements for patients seeking treatment with medical marijuana,” says R. David Marquez, who operates a Long Island law firm focusing on the cannabis industry.
New York is implementing very strict rules regarding cultivating and processing the plant. California, on the other side of the spectrum, already operates a somewhat loosely regulated medical marijuana market and has been doing so since 1996. The bill to legalize marijuana recreationally in the state is widely expected to pass vote and be implemented in 2016. This would open up an enormous market potential and contribute to the growth of the industry on a national level.
Because marijuana edibles are theoretically both a food and a drug, it is only appropriate that the FDA should look to regulate the industry in the future. In the meantime “Those who have invested the time and money in staying compliant now will be far ahead of the game tomorrow,” says Patrick Vo, who is looking toward federal legalization.
It seems that manufacturers and processors at the forefront of quality and safety testing will succeed in the long run.
Footnote: This is a regulatory update on the cannabis industry with an emphasis on edible marijuana. CannabisIndustryJournal.com, the newest publication, will be launched in September of this year. CannabisIndustryJournal.com will educate the marketplace covering news, technology, business trends, safety, quality, and the regulatory environment, aiding in the advancement of an informed and safe market for the global cannabis industry. Stay tuned for more!
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