Setting quality assurance standards in the cannabis industry: QA workers and growers need to be part of the conversation

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Quality control. It’s vital to a company’s existence, and when selling cannabis that people are consuming, it’s expected.

The goal is likely best achieved by instituting standardization of rules, testing and practices that ensure all cultivators and growers are on the same quality assurance (QA) page.

The issue will likely be front and center during the upcoming C-45 Quality Summit. From April 23 to 25, Winnipeg will play host to the summit, where leaders and players in the cannabis industry from across the country will gather to discuss issues such as best practices, global standards and how quality control can be improved. Representatives from Health Canada, responsible for the standards and regulations that licenced producers (LPs) must adhere to in order to sell and grow, are also expected to be in attendance.

“We’re starting the conversation on global cannabis standards,” says Stephanie Ostrander, a member of the C-45 planning committee and account manager for Keystone Labs, which, among other things, conducts cannabis testing.

1a GettyImages 627843742 e1553542912328 Setting quality assurance standards in the cannabis industry: QA workers and growers need to be part of the conversation

“We’re starting the conversation on global cannabis standards,” says Stephanie Ostrander, a member of the C-45 planning committee and account manager for Keystone Labs, which, among other things, conducts cannabis testing. LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images

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Pointing out that Canada is the only G7 country to fully legalize cannabis, “we are the leader,” Ostrander says, “ and it’s important we remain the leader in quality standards.”

For example, some LPs and labs work under Good Production Practices (GPP), but Ostrander says it’s better to work under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which involves doing more regular quality and environmental checks. Canadian LPs are not required to work under GMP, but many European countries are. To compete in a global market, Ostrander maintains that GMP is the way to go.

What are the hot topics in quality assurance?

Though the cannabis industry is still new, and Ostrander’s take is that Canada is doing “reasonably well” right now, other countries will be enter the market. She expects many countries that legalize will model themselves off of Canada’s standards, where LPs must conduct multiple tests to be able to sell cannabis. Characterizing these tests as “strict”, she emphasizes that “quality, according to Health Canada, is not just about having great buds.”

Keystone reports that labs must check for things like potency, contamination, heavy metals and a whopping 96 pesticides, such as carbofuran, an extremely toxic pesticide. This process can be tough to pass and, says Ostrander, some labs may have to subcontract out to others to complete testing.

What role do workers play in making the QA grade?

Quality assurance workers are a big part of the system that helps LPs remain in compliance and pass these tests; they have a special security clearance, allowing them inside grow rooms without supervision, they sign off on product release, communicate with a lab and answer to Health Canada.

But one issue that looms is these staff members may feel as though they are working alone. Whereas QA workers are prominent in the food and pharmaceutical industry, Ostrander suggests that in the cannabis industry, there is little information and support from other workers in a production facility.

As a result, QA staff and cultivators/growers are working in silos instead of working together. Quality assurance workers employed at LPs are required to have, at minimum, a bachelor of science, and a product cannot be sold until they sign off on it. Having these teams work together could reduce risk of failing tests and holding back product production, Ostrander says.

Coming together to set standards, build communities

The summit aims to build an association of QA personnel who will help set standards of work and practices across Canada. “Right now, we don’t have any type of association that is completely focused on quality,” says Ostrander. “It’s not the LPs that are steering this, it’s the quality assurance people.”

Ostrander says she has heard reports of some workers being concerned they might be reprimanded if they reach out to people in similar positions at other LPs, because some companies worry they may share too much information. She does not see this as the central issue, but, rather, that a network needs to be established to help set quality standards that ensure everyone has a fighting chance.

“Quality is not proprietary,” Ostrander argues. “What will set Canada apart is that we have a strong industry that works together in quality. We can show the world how quality and safety should be.”

The association will focus on creating a network through which people can share knowledge, work with educators and promote best practices. “Many companies are struggling with quality,” Ostrander contends. “People are not always happy with the products that are coming out. I think [the association] will elevate quality amongst many companies,” she adds.

Summit planners are putting together an executive team, and voting on additional members will take place on the final day of the conference.

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