Tag Archives: standard operating procedure

Soapbox

Human Error? No Problem

By Dr. Ginette M. Collazo
No Comments

If you are in the business of growing cannabis, you should be aware of the common reasons for production losses, how to address root causes and how to prevent future occurrences in a sustainable way. Human error is the number one root cause identified in investigations for defects in the cultivation business. Sadly, little is known about the nature of these errors, mainly because our quest for the truth ends where it should begin, once we know it was a human error or is “someone’s fault.”

Yes, human error usually explains the reason for the occurrence, but the reason for that error remains unexplained and consequently the corrective and preventive actions fail to address the underlying conditions for that failure. This, in turn, translates into ineffective action plans that result in creating non-value added activities, wasting resources and money as well as product.

Human error can occur when workers are in direct contact with the plant

So after investigating thousands of human error events and establishing systems to improve human reliability in manufacturing facilities, it became even clearer to me, the need to have good, human-engineered standard operating procedures (SOPs).

In the cannabis growing process, there are different types of mistakes that, when analyzed, all can be addressed in the same manner. For example, some common errors that we see are either overwatering or nutrient burn, which can occur when the plant is overfed. The same is true in the opposite scenario; underfeeding or under watering lead to problems as well. If your process is not automated, the reason for these failures was most likely human error. Now, why did the person make that mistake? Was there a procedure in place? Was the employee trained? Is there a specific process with steps, sub-steps, quantities and measures? Were tools available to be able to do the task correctly? There is so much that can be done about these questions if we had clear, well-written and simple, but specific instructions. The benefits greatly outweigh the effort required.

Also, besides providing step-by-step instructions to avoid commission errors (to perform incorrectly as opposed to omit some step), there are other types of errors that can be avoided with SOPs.

Decision making like detecting nutrient deficiencies can lead to human error.

Decision-making is another reason why we sometimes get different results than the ones expected. If during your process there are critical, knowledge-based decisions, workers need to be able to get all the information to detect as well as correct situations. Some decisions are, for example, when (detection) and how (steps) should I remove bud rot? Is there a critical step in the process (caution) to avoid other plants from becoming affected? Any information on the what, how, when, where and why reduces the likelihood of a decision error, later described as obvious.

When we face manufacturing challenges like nutrient deficiency in a particular stage, mold, fungus, gnats or even pollination of females, we want to do whatever we can to prevent it from happening again. So consider that from avoiding to detecting errors, procedures are a critical factor when improving human performance.

Here are some guidelines when writing procedures to prevent human error.

  1. Use them. Enforce the use of procedures at all times. As humans, we overestimate our abilities and tend to see procedures as an affront to our skills.
  2. Make sure it is a helpful procedure and users are involved in the process. People that participate in writing rules are more likely to follow them.
  3. Make sure they are available for their use.
  4. All critical activities should have a procedure.
  5. The procedure needs to be clear, have a good format, clear graphics, appropriate level of detail and specific presentation of limits.
  6. Make sure that facts, sequence and other requirements are correct and all possible conditions are considered e.g. “what if analysis”.

Human error won’t be eradicated unless we are able to really identify what is causing humans to err. If eliminating or “fixing” the actual individual eliminates or potentially reduces the probabilities of making that mistake again, then addressing the employee would be effective. But if there is a chance that the next in line will be able to make the same mistakes, consider evaluating human factors and not the human. Take a closer look and your process, system and ultimately your procedures.

Implementing Real Science in Cultivation and Extraction

By Aaron G. Biros
No Comments

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.

Lincoln Fish, co-founder and chief executive officer of Outco
Lincoln Fish, co-founder and chief executive officer of Outco

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.

With construction underway at new facilities, Outco is anticipating an expanding market and higher demand.
With construction underway at new facilities, Outco is anticipating an expanding market and higher demand.

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.”

Starting at a seed or cutting, plants are grown with the protection of biological control agents
Starting at a seed or cutting, plants are grown with the protection of biological control agents

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.

One of the cultivation facilities at Outco
One of the cultivation facilities at Outco

“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. Markus Roggen, vice president of extraction
Dr. Markus Roggen, vice president of extraction

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.

Plant irrigation and fertigation procedures are determined via experimentation
Plant irrigation and fertigation procedures are determined via experimentation

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.

Dr. Allison Justice, vice president of cultivation
Dr. Allison Justice, vice president of cultivation

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.

Hemp-Derived Products with a Contract Manufacturer

By Aaron G. Biros
No Comments

Based in Santa Monica, California, Sagely Naturals was founded in the summer of 2015, with the goal to produce a sustainably sourced, topical CBD cream with no psychoactive effects to treat daily aches and pains. The co-founders, Kerrigan Hanna and Kaley Nichol, have extensive backgrounds in the food service industry, and as a result they pride themselves in quality controls and proper safety procedures. Since the launch of Sagely Naturals, they have been selling their Relief & Recovery Cream online and in a wide variety of retail outlets beyond just cannabis dispensaries. Their ability to distribute outside of dispensaries is due to the fact that the product’s active ingredient, Cannabidiol (CBD), is derived from hemp, instead of cannabis with higher levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

kerrigan/kaley
Co-founders Kaley Nichol (left) and Kerrigan Hanna (right)

Their attention to detail in consistency and quality makes them stand out as cannabis processors, using a contract manufacturer with good manufacturing practices (GMPs) along with the proper standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place. “All of our contract manufacturer’s corrective and preventative actions (CAPAs) are outlined in the company’s SOPs, which are in place for everything including specific manufacturing processes, receiving and shipping materials and testing batches,” says Hanna. “The contract manufacturer also provides certificates of analysis (COAs) for every product they make.” According to Hanna, they exclusively use current GMP-certified facilities. One such SOP lays out the responsibilities for the quality control department in order to release and approve ingredients of their products.sagely_naturals_logo_400x400

There are some SOPs that could pertain specifically to the processing of hemp or cannabis products, according to Hanna. “Receiving and handling raw materials like hemp, batch coding, the actual formulation and manufacturing process, quality controls and cleaning and sanitation [could be tailored to pertain to cannabis],” says Hanna. Proper SOPs laid out in the manufacturing process include the cleaning and sanitation of machines, as well as adjusting settings, formula ratios and initialing and dating product labels on every batch, among more specific operating procedures.

The cream is made with natural ingredients like safflower seedily and peppermint.
The cream is made with natural ingredients like safflower seed oil and peppermint.

According to the co-founders, they spent a large amount of time vetting their hemp supplier, making sure they are using cutting-edge technology, growing it sustainably, and adhering to strict SOPs. “The team includes a Ph.D. chemist, who also is a founding member of our supplier and extractor,” says Hanna. “We work with CO2 extraction because we wanted the most control over the compounds that end up in our product. We are able to purposefully choose which cannabinoids end up in our product.” Through supercritical carbon dioxide extraction and post-extraction processing, the team is able to eliminate any trace of THC, guaranteeing the consumers will receive no psychoactive effects.

In looking toward long-term growth, the co-founders emphasize the importance of environmental sustainability. “Having honest ingredients is one of our company missions along with having honest practices,” says Hanna. “None of our ingredients are tested on animals so we are an animal cruelty-free organization.” Their hemp is grown using organic and environmentally friendly practices. “We prioritize using plant-based ingredients, so the formulation of our Relief & Recovery Cream relies on using organic and raw materials—such as essential peppermint and safflower oil.” Companies like Sagely Naturals using contract manufacturers to process hemp could represent the future of the cannabis industry. When safety, sustainability and quality issues come into the spotlight more, so will the need for outlined SOPs, proper documentation and extensive lab testing.

Marijuana Matters

A Guide to Documentation and SOPs for Start Ups

By David C. Kotler, Esq.
2 Comments

As your company grows, or whether you want to have certain documentation to make an application for licensure and/or for outside entities looking to invest, it is necessary to handle issues from a documentation standpoint. Learning how to handle situations with staff through proper employee manuals and how to establish and practice standard operating procedures can help businesses avoid common pitfalls with a little forethought.

Beginning with standard operating procedures (SOPs), there are many resources available to get assistance in crafting them. You can consult with individuals such as safety content producers, business consultants, lawyers, technical writers, and even borrowing SOP writers from other industries. I am aware of a Connecticut producer who tapped pharmaceutical SOP writers as consultants with the focus of establishing their standard operating procedures. I am not convinced that there is any proper person or method by which an entity may want to consider an SOP. As a threshold, however, it is important that a proper format is created, i.e., simple steps, hierarchical steps format or perhaps even a flow chart format.

One would want to consider the audience who will be reading the SOP and the information to impart to that audience. It is also important to consider SOPs that you want to update as practices evolve or change.

It is possible to create SOPs internally, and frankly, this may be the most recommended route. If the SOPs are being used for guidance and not just to support the license application process, this is particularly important. It is a time-consuming task and if created from the inside out, it can be most effective.

It is possible to get lost in the minutia by documenting every step taken within a particular process. I have seen SOPs number in the hundreds just for cultivation and processing operations. One particular entity in Colorado created over 63 SOPs within the past year. If you are writing your own SOPs, it is important to understand the scope and applicability, i.e. why a particular process is performed and how it is used, then the procedures and/or steps that are necessary to accomplish that particular process, clarify any terms that are necessary so that the reader is able to follow the steps throughout a particular outline, cover health and safety issues, address equipment and supplies and provide emergency procedures.

The process that I can attest to as being fruitful is interplay between an employee who is actually responsible for a given task and a third party looking from a 1000-foot view. For instance, have the employee who completes a number of tasks within the organization provide a list of what they do on a general day-to-day basis. From that list, have the third party extrapolate what topics might be covered, often times borrowing from other well known standard operating procedures that are seen across industries and come up with a master list of the SOPs which are desired. It is important for the employee and third party to collaborate to finalize SOPs.

Employee guides or manuals provide information on benefits, when time sheets are due, paydays, holidays, vacation days, sick days and more. For employees, it helps mitigate risk by providing guidelines for conduct, discipline, and local practices in the states in which you operate. Employee guides are most effective when they are created to match your company’s needs. When it is tailored to your company, you are certain that the policies meet the laws of the places where your offices and employees are located. It allows you to provide input so you can ensure that you have developed policies that your company will follow. Unwritten policies are unwise as they may cause issues and can potentially lead to lawsuits. There are three types of multi-state employee guides: a guide with favored nations status, meaning that the most liberal laws in one location apply to the entire organization; an employment guide for each location in which you operate; or you can create one guide with a local practice section.

Creation of employee guides is a time consuming and arduous practice, but once completed, they help guide the relationship between employee and employer. Employees should review the employee manual and sign off upon receipt and review. This will serve to protect the employer in the future should an issue covered by the manual arise.

An effective employee guide might include (but certainly not be limited to) the following:

  • An “employment at will” disclaimer
  • An anti-harassment policy
  • An internal grievance procedure
  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
  • Employee benefits
  • Paid time off (vacation, personal days, sick leave)
  • Unpaid leaves of absence
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (for employers with more than 15 employees)
  • Jury duty, military leave
  • Hours of work
  • Introductory/probationary period
  • Legally mandated language concerning pay deductions
  • Proper E-mail/Internet usage
  • Professionalism/dress code
  • Drugs in the workplace
  • Social media policy

There are many other policies that would be included in order to comply with requirements that might be mandated by a particular regulatory scheme i.e. security compliance. The guide should be a living, breathing document that evolves over time based on new knowledge, changes in laws and business fluidity.

Both standard operating procedures and employee manuals or guides are integral to the viability of a cannabis related business whether a hands on the plant license holder or an ancillary company. I encourage my clients to craft self-created content that they have invested their time and knowledge into, with some help where necessary. Purchasing forms online does not provide a workable format and will only lead to problems in the future. You get what you put in and creating these documents internally and from the ground up gives more control to the business.