From seed-to-sale, overseeing processing and extraction as well as navigating a dense web of complicated regulations, cannabis businesses have unique inventory management needs.
Unfortunately, there is no magical, one-size-fits-all inventory solution that is perfect for all cannabis companies. That is why cannabis businesses must take time to properly evaluate and identify an inventory system that is effective for their specific needs and requirements.
Inventory management plays a crucial role in maintaining productive and compliant day-to-day operations — and when seeking investment — as it has a direct impact on a business’s bottom line. Because of the regulatory and legal complexities in the industry, using an incomplete, rudimentary or outdated inventory system can lead to serious financial discrepancies guaranteed to cause headaches for accounting professionals and business leaders.
The right system also can give businesses actionable data to respond to changing market conditions, business needs and growth opportunities as they arise quickly. This visibility is a necessary aspect of ensuring your cannabis businesses can achieve long-term, sustainable growth.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for an inventory management system:
Use the Cloud
First, be sure your company is using cloud-based accounting software. This will instantly simplify both your accounting and inventory processes. Cloud-based solutions ensure company financial and inventory records are up to date and accurate.
Do Not Rely on Your Accounting Software
Your accounting software may provide native functionality for inventory tracking — but do not use it. Such native inventory functions are not robust or complex enough to properly maintain the complicated inventories of cannabis businesses. For instance, your business might be cultivating numerous plants across several sites, tracking plant movement and processing, or packaging it internally. You may be selling your products at other dispensaries or supplying other dispensaries’ products at your counter. Simply put: Cannabis businesses need more sophisticated solutions to track sales, monitor supplies, oversee shipments and remain informed on where products originate from and how frequently to re-order. Native functionalities too often do not provide such robust features.
Look for Direct Integration
That said, business owners want to ensure their inventory system directly and seamlessly integrates with their cloud accounting software. You should not have to input or upload information when setting up inventory software manually. In today’s world, the two systems should automatically and easily share information with each other. Each system’s website will often say whether it can integrate with various accounting platforms, but it never hurts to do some additional research. For example, both Fishbowl and Trade Gecko can be directly integrated with Xero. Some systems even offer a demo environment to let business owners experience what the integration will look like.
Explore Invoicing Capabilities
Some inventory management systems include invoicing capabilities, which can simplify the invoicing process – or even automate it. Such functionality reduces the risk of error when transferring data between programs. A consolidated system that automatically links inventory and invoicing allows business leaders to update invoices easily, mark orders as paid or unpaid, filled or unfilled, all while keeping a close eye on inventory. Some inventory solutions even offer dynamic reporting that displays real-time sales reports and fulfillment processes – making it easier than ever to work with vendors, identify and eliminate unnecessary costs and control cash flow.
Do Not Just Sign Up with the First System You Find
Choosing an inventory management system requires plenty of thought, and no two solutions look exactly alike. So, do not rush into a commitment just to get it over with and move on. Instead, spend enough time learning about various systems and their options to guide a confident purchasing decision. Going with the wrong system and having to switch later not only wastes time and money, but it can undo many of the efficiencies you worked to implement.
Consult an Accounting or Business System Expert
Working with accounting and business systems experts will provide insights related to your short- and long-term business goals. Such experts can help business owners understand exactly how their specific inventory ought to be tracked to avoid serious discrepancies or non-compliance. In addition, a strong accounting professional can act as an invaluable resource and partner when it comes to selecting and personalizing an inventory management system and identifying inaccuracies or inefficiencies. A good tax pro also can serve as a point person between the cannabis business and the software developer to address initial customization and setup or any issues that may arise.
Running a cannabis business requires an investment of time and money from the very start. The good news: You do not have to spend an arm and a leg on your inventory management system to find something that works. Some solutions marry affordability with efficiencies — but be sure to explore several options to find the right fit, keeping in mind the guidelines laid out above. Remember: Cost does play an important role, but the system’s capabilities are more vital to positioning your cannabusiness for sustainable, long-term growth and compliance.
Cannabis businesses have become a driving force for economic growth in the United States. We’ve all heard the statistics. In 2018, the industry accounted for approximately $10.4 billion in revenue and is slated to grow to $21 billion by 2021.
But with growth comes pressure to produce more, enhance quality and optimize operations. However, managing a cannabis business without modern, capable tools can hinder growth and leave opportunities on the table. That’s why fast-growing cannabis businesses are looking to the proven benefits of a true cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform to help manage production, provide insights and improve business operations. When we add in the complexity and ever-changing nature of regulation, the need for a robust operational system becomes even more critical.
David Stephans will be speaking during CIJ’s October 9th webinar, “Driving Strategic Advantage for your Cannabusiness through Process Efficiency, Quality & Compliance” Click here to learn more and register for free.Cannabis business leaders may want to develop their own “playbook” to differentiate themselves in the market. But before they start to engineer their forward-thinking approach, they should start with a cloud ERP as their foundation. This can help with everything from the most basic of needs to more sophisticated strategies. In this article, we’ll review some key cannabis business goals and tactics, and how ERP can help lay the groundwork for success.
Drive growth and expansion.
Business growth often translates into operational expansion, meaning more facilities, staff and compliance requirements to manage. A cloud ERP supports these functions, including the launch of new products, expanding pricing schedules and increasing production to meet demand. Having the ability to track and manage growth is crucial, and a cloud ERP can provide the real-time reporting and dashboards for visibility across the entire business. This includes not just operational visibility, but also a look into a company’s sales, finances and supply chain.
Foster exemplary customer experience.
Cannabis companies need to streamline processes from the moment an order is placed to when it arrives at the customer’s door. In the mind of consumers, cannabis businesses compete against the likes of Amazon. They must be able to provide a similar experience and level of service, with customers receiving orders in a couple of business days. Cloud ERP can help automate processes. And when things go wrong, it can also help with resolution, especially when it’s paired with a customer relationship management (CRM) system on the same cloud platform. For the B2B market, cloud ERP empowers account management to review past orders to better meet future customer needs.
Stay a step ahead of the game.
In the industry, change is a constant. The future will likely bring about shifts in products, regulations and suppliers. A cloud ERP can modify workflows, controls and process approvals on the fly, so companies can adapt to new requirements. It offers security against emerging risks and easy integration with other systems cannabusinesses may need. An advanced cloud ERP will also provide cutting-edge capabilities, such as AI insights and data-capture from Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices.
Ensure quality product for raving fans and avoid flags on the field through airtight compliance.
Many cannabis companies are passionate about delivering the highest-quality cannabis products. Auditability is key to both quality and compliance. Complete traceability, with lot and serial number tracking, will record comprehensive audit trails from seed to sale. A cloud ERP will incorporate RFID tags down to the plant, lot and product levels to assist in this process. As cannabis goods move through their lifecycle, the cloud ERP will append appropriate tracking to purchasing receipts, inventory as it moves between locations, products as they’re packaged and sales orders as they’re fulfilled.
As a heavily regulated industry, cannabis business is also subject to burdensome compliance standards. A cloud ERP can support the rigorous testing that’s required to assure potency and safety. It easily facilitates Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Production Practices (GPP), which ensures products are consistently produced according to quality standards. Many regulatory agencies require digital reporting; cloud ERP can facilitate this requirement through integration with Metrc, Health Canada and the FDA. Compliance can be a costly endeavor, and this type integration saves time, money, and effort.
As you can see, a cloud ERP helps efficiently balance compliance and regulatory requirements, with operational efficiency and customer service – key strategies in any cannabusiness playbook.
Is your cannabis business an attractive target for cyber criminals? With the influx of investment to this market and new businesses opening frequently throughout the United States, the legal cannabis industry is a prime target for cyber criminals.
Never share personal information (login and passwords, social security numbers, payment card information, etc.) over email.Cannabis industry hackers pick their targets by vulnerability, exploiting consumer or patient data to darknet black markets and forums. The impact can be devastating to both the business and their consumers. With new laws on protecting consumer and patient data on the horizon, businesses that do not adequately protect that data, could face stiff fines, in addition to losing the trust of their customers.
So, how do these attacks present themselves? Recent studies implicate employees as the “weakest link” in the cybersecurity chain due to a lack of cybersecurity best practices and training. Implementing safeguards and providing employee training is imperative to the cybersecurity health of your business.
Now, let’s identify the top 5 cybersecurity threats to the cannabis industry and some valuable tips for protecting against these criminal hacks:
Phishing: Phishing is a form of cyber-attack, typically disguised as an official email from a trustworthy entity, attempting to dupe the recipient into revealing confidential information or downloading malware. Don’t take the bait! 91 percent of cyber-attacks start as phishing scams, with most of these lures being cast through fraudulent emails.
Tips: Do not download attachments from unknown senders!
Never share personal information (login and passwords, social security numbers, payment card information, etc.) over email.
Password Management: Password complexity is key to protecting against cyber breaches. When it comes to data hacking, 81 percent of breaches are caused by stolen or weak passwords. With a password often being the only barrier between you and a data breach, creating a complex password will dramatically decrease those password-sniffers from obtaining your sensitive information.
Tips: Create passwords that are at least 12 characters in length – include letters, numbers and symbols (*$%^!), and never use a default password. This will fend off brute-force attacks.
Change passwords every six months to a year, keeping them complicated and protected. For IT Managers, make using a password manager mandatory for all employees. (Pro-tip: LastPass is free).Be cautious with network selection as hackers set up free Wi-Fi networks that appear to be associated with an institution.
Public Wi-Fi: Being able to connect in public spaces, while a modern marvel of convenience, leaves us wide open to cyber-attacks. Whether you are in an airport or café, always err on the side of caution.
Tips: Be cautious with network selection as hackers set up free Wi-Fi networks that appear to be associated with an institution.
Browse in a “private” or “incognito” window to avoid saving information. If you have a VPN, use it. If not, then do not handle any sensitive data.
With these platforms providing greater access to mobile apps, comes greater responsibility on the part of the end user.
Tips: Password protect devices that will be used for work (and, any device in general).
Only download applications from a trusted, authorized app store. Do not use untrusted play apps.
Mobile device protection is recommended for any device being used on a business network.
Whether it is an app from an unauthorized website or a lost/stolen device that was not password protected, cyber criminals do not need much to compromise critical data.Avoid logging into a SaaS application on a public computer or public Wi-Fi network.
SaaS Selectively: Keep Sensitive Data Safe: SaaS (Software As A Service) are cloud-based software solutions and chances are you are using one of these SaaS solutions for work purposes. IT is typically responsible for implementing security controls for SaaS applications, but ultimate responsibility falls on IT and the end user jointly. Here is what you can do to help keep these solutions safe:
Tips: Avoid logging into a SaaS application on a public computer or public Wi-Fi network.
Never share your SaaS login credentials with unauthorized persons over digital format or in person. Lastly, if you need to step away, always lock your screen during an active session.
While these tips will help keep your consumer/patient data from falling into the wrong hands, always have a plan B- backup plan! Your plan B must incorporate saving important data to a backup drive daily. Most likely, there is already a backup protocol in place for your mission-critical work data; however, for sanity’s sake, back up your BYOD devices as well.
When it comes to compliance for cannabis startups, the ISO 9000 family of standards reigns supreme. Providing the guidelines for the concepts that make up a quality management system (QMS), the ISO family is composed of five standards: ISO 9000, 9001, 9002, 9003 and 9004. Outside of ISO 9001, ISO 9000 is the most important because it creates the foundation that guides all of the other standards.
ISO 9000 is split into two sections: fundamentals and vocabulary. Fundamentals covers the basic principles of quality management and the vocabulary section is a dictionary of quality management terminology. ISO 9000 is crucial because it provides direction on proper QMS implementation that will lead to achieving an ISO 9001 certification.
While the entire ISO 9000 family is focused on quality management systems that aim to help organizations “ensure that their products and services consistently meet customer’s requirements and that quality is consistently improved,” ISO 9001 is the only standard that lists actual requirements and requires certification.Cloud-based quality management software provides the flexibility and scalability, that cannabis startups need to comply with ISO 9001
Quality Management Systems (QMS)
When conceptualizing “quality management,” it is best to think of it as an organization’s definition of how it will meet the quality requirements of customers and other stakeholders who are affected by its work. Implementing this requires an extensive alignment of company processes and procedural governance.
It’s easiest to think of a QMS as the facilitator of outlined processes that are required to fulfill ISO 9001 requirements. For example, if an organization has defined a change request process, it could use a cloud-based QMS to put that process in place. However, the benefits of a cloud-based QMS don’t have to end at ISO 9001. It can also help organizations comply with other regulations like GxP.
ISO 9001 Requirements
ISO 9001 requirements can sound very generic because they’re meant to be applied to any organization, big or small, in any industry. The key to ISO 9001 is the concept of continuous improvement, which is why specific requirements for what “quality” is are not defined. Rather, companies must create objectives and work toward improving processes to meet those objectives. That said, a certified QMS still must do the following:
Meet the requirements of other stakeholders, for example, customer requirements and regulatory standards
Ensure that employees receive training outlining the quality requirements
Determine and document the processes, their interactions and their results
Be able to produce records to prove that system requirements have been met
From creation to disposal, document protocols must be clear and properly followed.With that in mind, ISO 9001’s purpose is to evaluate whether or not a QMS does a good job of managing processes while also being able to help organizations identify areas that need improvement. In simple terms, ISO 9001 helps companies who were making an excellent product most of the time, make an excellent product every time.
How can cloud quality management software help you get your ISO 9001 certification? Once you create processes that adhere to ISO 9001 quality management standards, you have to put them into practice. Enter: quality management software. But, how exactly does it help?
Optimal Time to Value
First, cloud-based software is the most cost-efficient to implement. Secondly, since a QMS needs to be accessible to every employee regardless of whether they work at HQ or on-site, cloud QMS are built to be mobile-friendly and easily accessed from any location.
Automated Document Lifecycles & Version Control
From creation to disposal, document protocols must be clear and properly followed. As up-to-date documents are an important factor in maintaining high levels of quality, the most recent versions of approved documents should be readily available while previous editions should be hidden away.
With cloud quality management software, workflows can automate the review and approval processes by automatically sharing documents with the right reviewers. Then, after the document has been approved, the changes will automatically be applied to the master document while the obsolete version is archived, helping to remove any chance of it being accidentally used after the update.
Easy Document Location & Metadata
According to ISO 9001, searching through an organization’s documents should be as easy as searching with Google. It’s an added bonus when the quality management software enables users to add custom metadata to documents. Metadata is just extra information that helps to define a document (like file size, type, date modified). With certain cloud-based QMS’, you can add custom metadata fields to make documents easier to find. For example, you can add an “expiration date” field that allows you to look up policies based on when they are set to expire.With the growing number of data breaches happening every year, it’s important to address the security components of a QMS.
In order to pass any ISO 9001 audit, there needs to be a complete audit trail for every document, including active documents and the earlier archived versions. While this might seem like a big ask, cloud quality management software helps make this simple. Every single change to a document, regardless of whether it’s the current or past version, is tracked. When combined with automated workflows, you’re able to produce a precise log of every change made by every user.
Advanced User Permissions & Central File Ownership
With the growing number of data breaches happening every year, it’s important to address the security components of a QMS. Many of these issues can be resolved with user permissions, which is generally related to managing users’ editing and sharing access. The proper view, edit, and approval rights go a long way to reducing the risk of human error.
Another feature that may seem like common sense is central file ownership. When the organization owns all of its documents, there’s no need to worry that important files will be lost or deleted. With one owner, the damage that can be inflicted by malicious third-parties is also limited.
Cloud-based quality management software provides the flexibility and scalability, that cannabis startups need to comply with ISO 9001. With the cloud as a foundation, these systems will continue to be assets for the cannabis industry as it gains momentum and expands more.
No matter the size of your cannabis greenhouse operation, keeping your plants alive and healthy requires the best possible growing environment. This means greenhouse managers and personnel must frequently monitor the status of environmental conditions and equipment. The sooner someone discovers extreme temperature fluctuations, rising humidity or equipment failure, the more inventory you can save.
That’s why integrating a remote monitoring system into your greenhouse operation can save you time, money and anxiety. Monitoring systems that use cloud-based technology let you see real-time status of all monitored conditions and receive alerts right on your mobile device.
Installing a monitoring system and sensors can be easier than you might think. Here are answers to ten questions to ask before installing a cloud-based monitoring system:
What is required to use a remote monitoring system?
Most remote monitoring systems require an internet or WiFi connection and access to an electrical outlet. Programming is done through a website, so it’s easiest to use a computer for the initial setup. If you don’t have an internet connection at your location, you’ll want to choose a cellular system. Make sure that there’s sufficient signal strength at your site, and check the signal quality in the area before purchasing a cellular device.
2. How do we determine what kind of monitoring system and sensors we need?
A reputable manufacturer will have a well-trained support team that can assess your needs even without a site visit to determine which products are best for your application. If you feel you need them to check out your greenhouse operation,many companies can set up a video conference or FaceTime chat to substitute for being on site.
You will want to provide details about the scope and purpose of your cannabis growing operation. Important factors to discuss include:
Skeletal structure of the greenhouse (metal, plastic, wood, etc.) and the covering material (glass or plastic).
Floor space square footage and height of each of your greenhouses.
Number of greenhouse structures in your operation.
Outdoor climate to determine if you rely more on heating or air conditioning and the level of humidity control needed.
Space dedicated to phases of growth (cloning and propagation, vegetative, flowering) and the microclimates needed for each.
Types of lighting, ventilation and irrigation systems.
Level of technological automation versus manual operation in place.
The monitoring system representative will then determine the type of system that would best serve your operation, the number of base units you will need and the types of sensors required.
The representative should also be able to provide tips on the placement of the sensors you’re purchasing. For example, to ensure thorough air temperature coverage, place sensors throughout the greenhouse, next to the thermostat controlling the room temperature and in the center of the greenhouse out of direct sunlight.
Note that there shouldn’t be a cost for a demo, consultation or assistance throughout the sales process. Be sure to ask if there are any fees or licenses to keep using the monitoring equipment after you purchase it.
3. Are sensors included with the monitoring system?
In most cases, sensors are sold separately. The sensors you select depend upon the conditions you want to monitor and how many you can connect to your base unit. Certainly, temperature is critical, but there are many other factors to deal with as well, such as humidity, CO2, soil moisture, water pH, power and equipment failure, ventilation and physical security.
For example, humidity has a direct impact on the photosynthesis and transpiration of plants. High humidity can also cause disease and promote the growth of harmful mold, algae and mildew. Sensors can detect changes in humidity levels.
Like any other plant, cannabis needs CO2 to thrive, so it’s a good idea to include a CO2 sensor that will signal to the monitoring device when readings go out of the preset range. There are even sensors that you can place in the soil to measure moisture content to help prevent over- or underwatering, budget water usage costs, promote growth and increase crop yield and quality.
Of course, all the critical systems in your growing facility—from water pumps to irrigation lines to louvers—rely on electrical power. A power outage monitoring sensor detects power failure. It can also monitor equipment for conditions that predict if a problem is looming, such as power fluctuations that occur at specific times.
Ventilation systems not only help control temperature, they also provide fresh air that is critical to plant health. Automated systems include features like vented roofs, side vents and forced fans. Sensors placed on all these systems will send personnel an alert if they stop running or operate outside of preset parameters.
To monitor the physical security of your greenhouses, you can add sensors to entrance doors, windows, supply rooms and equipment sheds. During off hours, when no staff is on duty, you can remain vigilant and be alerted to any unauthorized entry into your facility.
4. Do monitoring systems only work with the manufacturer’s sensors?
Not necessarily. For example, certain monitoring units can connect with most 4-20mA sensors and transmitters regardless of the brand. When selecting sensors, you might have a choice between ones that are designed by the manufacturer to work specifically with the monitoring system or universal components made by a third party. If the components aren’t made by the system manufacturer, you’ll want to find out if they have been tested with the monitor you are choosing and if you need to work with another vendor to purchase the parts.
5. Is a monitoring system easy to set up, or do we need to hire an electrician?
Many monitoring systems are quick and easy to install, and users can often set them up without hiring an outside expert. Look for one that requires only a few simple physical installation steps. For example:
Mount the device to the wall or somewhere secure;
Plug it into an electrical outlet and an internet connection;
Connect the sensors.
You connect the sensors to the base unit’s terminal strip using wire, which is included with many sensors. The range of many wired sensors can be extended up to 2,000 feet away from the base unit by adding wire that can be easily purchased at any home store. It’s a good idea to hire an electrician if you need to run wires through walls or ceilings.
Usually, once you plug in the device and connect the sensors, you then create an account on the manufacturer’s designated website and begin using your device. There should be no fee to create an account and use the site.
If the manufacturer doesn’t offer installation services, ask if they can recommend a local representative in your area who can set up your system. If not, make sure they provide free technical support via phone or email to walk you through the installation and answer any questions you might have about programming and daily usage.
6. Is there a monthly fee to access all the functionality of a monitoring device?
Many web- or cloud-based systems provide free functionality with some limitations. You might have to purchase a premium subscription to unlock features such as text messaging, phone call alerts and unlimited data logging access.
7. Should we get a system that is wired or wireless? Will we need to have a phone line, cable, internet or something else?
Wireless can mean two different things as it relates to monitoring: how the system communicates its data to the outside world and how the sensors communicate with the system.
The most popular systems require an internet or WiFi connection, but if that’s not an option, cellular- and phone-based systems are available.
A hardwired monitoring system connects the sensors to the base device with wires. A wireless system uses built-in radio transmitters to communicate with the base unit. Some monitoring systems can accommodate a combination of hardwired and wireless sensors.
8. Can one system monitor several sensor inputs around the clock?
Once the monitoring system is installed and programmed, it will constantly read the information from the sensors 24/7. Cloud-based systems have data logging capabilities and store limitless amounts of information that you can view from any internet-connected device via a website or app.
If the system detects any sensor readings outside of the preset range, it will send an alarm to all designated personnel. The number of sensors a base unit can monitor varies. Make sure to evaluate your needs and to select one that can accommodate your present situation and future growth.
When a monitoring system identifies a change in status, it immediately sends alerts to people on your contact list. If you don’t want all your personnel to receive notifications at the same time, some devices can be programmed to send alerts in a tiered fashion or on a schedule. Multiple communications methods like phone, email and text provide extra assurance that you’ll get the alert. It’s a good idea to check the number of people the system can reach and if the system automatically cycles through the contact list until someone responds. Some systems allow for flexible scheduling, so that off-duty personnel don’t receive alerts.
9. Do monitoring systems have a back-up power system that will ensure the alarming function still works if the power goes out or if someone disconnects the power?
The safest choice is a cloud-based system that comes with a built-in battery backup that will last for hours in the event of a power failure. Cloud-based units constantly communicate a signal to the cloud to validate its online status. If the communication link is interrupted—for example by a power outage or an employee accidently switching off the unit—the system generates an alarm indicating that the internet connection is lost or that there is a cellular communications problem. Users are alerted about the disruption through phone, text or email. All data collected during this time will be stored in the device and will be uploaded to the cloud when the internet connection is restored.
If you opt for a cloud-based monitoring system, make sure the infrastructure used to create the cloud platform is monitored 24/7 by the manufacturer’s team. Ask if they have multiple backups across the country to ensure the system is never down.
10. What should we expect if we need technical support or repairs to the system?
Purchase your system from a reputable manufacturer that provides a warranty and offers full repair services in the event the product stops working as it should. Also, research to make sure their tech support team is knowledgeable and willing to walk you through any questions you have about your monitoring system. Often, support specialists can diagnose and correct unit setup and programming issues over the phone.
It helps to record your observations regarding the problem, so the tech team can look for trends and circumstances concerning the issue and better diagnose the problem. Ideally, the manufacturer can provide loaner units if your problem requires mailing the device to their facility for repair.
With the state led legalization of both adult recreational and medical cannabis, there is a need for comprehensive and reliable analytical testing to ensure consumer safety and drug potency. Cannabis-testing laboratories receive high volumes of test requests from cannabis cultivators for testing quantitative and qualitative aspects of the plant. The testing market is growing as more states bring in stricter enforcement policies on testing. As the number of testing labs grow, it is anticipated that the laboratories that are now servicing other markets, including high throughput contract labs, will cross into cannabis testing as regulations free up. As the volume of tests each lab performs increases, the need for laboratories to make effective use of time and resource management, such as ensuring accurate and quick results, reports, regulatory compliance, quality assurance and many other aspects of data management becomes vital in staying competitive.
Cannabis Testing Workflows
To be commercially competitive, testing labs offer a comprehensive range of testing services. These services are available for both the medical and recreational cannabis markets, including:
Detection and quantification of both acid and neutral forms of cannabinoids
Screening for pesticide levels
Monitoring water activity to indicate the possibility of microbiological contamination
Moisture content measurements
Residual solvents and heavy metal testing
Fungi, molds, mycotoxin testing and many more
Although the testing workflows differ for each test, here is a basic overview of the operations carried out in a cannabis-testing lab:
Cannabis samples are received.
The samples are processed using techniques such as grinding and homogenization. This may be followed by extraction, filtration and evaporation.
A few samples will be isolated and concentrated by dissolving in solvents, while others may be derivatized using HPLC or GC reagents
The processed samples are then subjected to chromatographic separation using techniques such as HPLC, UHPLC, GC and GC-MS.
The separated components are then analyzed and identified for qualitative and quantitative analysis based on specialized standards and certified reference materials.
The quantified analytical data will be exported from the instruments and compiled with the corresponding sample data.
The test results are organized and reviewed by the lab personnel.
The finalized test results are reported in a compliant format and released to the client.
In order to ensure that cannabis testing laboratories function reliably, they are obliged to follow and execute certain organizational and regulatory protocols throughout the testing process. These involve critical factors that determine the accuracy of testing services of a laboratory.
Factors Critical to a Cannabis Testing Laboratory
Accreditations & Regulatory Compliance: Cannabis testing laboratories are subject to regulatory compliance requirements, accreditation standards, laboratory practices and policies at the state level. A standard that most cannabis testing labs comply to is ISO 17025, which sets the requirements of quality standards in testing laboratories. Accreditation to this standard represents the determination of competence by an independent third party referred to as the “Accreditation Body”. Accreditation ensures that laboratories are adhering to their methods. These testing facilities have mandatory participation in proficiency tests regularly in order to maintain accreditation.
Quality Assurance, Standards & Proficiency Testing: Quality assurance is in part achieved by implementing standard test methods that have been thoroughly validated. When standard methods are not available, the laboratory must validate their own methods. In addition to using valid and appropriate methods, accredited laboratories are also required to participate in appropriate and commercially available Proficiency Test Program or Inter-Laboratory Comparison Study. Both PT and ILC Programs provide laboratories with some measure of their analytic performance and compare that performance with other participating laboratories.
Real-time Collaboration: Testing facilities generate metadata such as data derived from cannabis samples and infused products. The testing status and test results are best served for compliance and accessibility when integrated and stored on a centralized platform. This helps in timely data sharing and facilitates informed decision making, effective cooperation and relationships between cannabis testing facilities and growers. This platform is imperative for laboratories that have grown to high volume throughput where opportunities for errors exist. By matching test results to samples, this platform ensures consistent sample tracking and traceability. Finally, the platform is designed to provide immediate, real-time reporting to individual state or other regulatory bodies.
Personnel Management: Skilled scientific staff in cannabis-testing laboratories are required to oversee testing activities. Staff should have experience in analytical chromatography instruments such as HPLC and GC-MS. Since samples are often used for multi-analytes such as terpenes, cannabinoids, pesticides etc., the process often involves transferring samples and tests from one person to another within the testing facility. A chain of custody (CoC) is required to ensure traceability and ‘ownership’ for each person involved in the workflow.
LIMS for Laboratory Automation
Gathering, organizing and controlling laboratory-testing data can be time-consuming, labor-intensive and challenging for cannabis testing laboratories. Using spreadsheets and paper methods for this purpose is error-prone, makes data retrieval difficult and does not allow laboratories to easily adhere to regulatory guidelines. Manual systems are cumbersome, costly and lack efficiency. One way to meet this challenge is to switch to automated solutions that eliminate many of the mundane tasks that utilize valuable human resources.. Laboratory automation transforms the data management processes and as a result, improves the quality of services and provides faster turnaround time with significant cost savings. Automating the data management protocol will improve the quality of accountability, improve technical efficiency, and improve fiscal resources.
A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is a software tool for testing labs that aids efficient data management. A LIMS organizes, manages and communicates all laboratory test data and related information, such as sample and associated metadata, tests, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), test reports, and invoices. It also enables fully automated data exchange between instruments such as HPLCs, GC-FIDs, etc. to one consolidated location, thereby reducing transcription errors.
How LIMS Helps Cannabis Testing Labs
LIMS are much more capable than spreadsheets and paper-based tools for streamlining the analytical and operational lab activities and enhances the productivity and quality by eliminating manual data entry. Cloud-enabled LIMS systems such as CloudLIMS are often low in the total cost of acquisition, do not require IT staff and are scalable to help meet the ever changing business and regulatory compliance needs. Some of the key benefits of LIMS for automating a cannabis-testing laboratory are illustrated below [Table 1]:
Barcode label designing and printing
Enables proper labelling of samples and inventory
Follows GLP guidelines
Instant data capture by scanning barcodes
Facilitates quick client registration and sample access
3600 data traceability
Saves time and resources for locating samples and other records
Inventory and order management
Supports proactive planning/budgeting and real time accuracy
Promotes overall laboratory organization by assigning custodians for samples and tests
Maintains the Chain-of-custody (CoC)
Accommodates pre-loaded test protocols to quickly assign tests for incoming samples
Accounting for sample and inventory quantity
Automatically deducts sample and inventory quantities when consumed in tests
Package & shipment management
Manages incoming samples and samples that have been subcontracted to other laboratories
Electronic data import
Electronically imports test results and metadata from integrated instruments
Eliminates manual typographical errors
Generates accurate, customizable, meaningful and test reports for clients
Allows user to include signatures and additional sections for professional use
21 CFR Part 11 compliant
Authenticates laboratory activities with electronic signatures
ISO 17025 accreditation
Provides traceable documentary evidence required to achieve ISO 17025 accreditation
Audit trail capabilities
Adheres to regulatory standards by recording comprehensive audit logs for laboratory activities along with the date and time stamp
Centralized data management
Stores all the data in a single, secure database facilitating quick data retrieval
Promotes better data management and resource allocation
Enables modification of screens using graphical configuration tools to mirror testing workflows
State compliance systems
Integrates with state-required compliance reporting systems and communicates using API
Adheres to regulatory compliance
Creates Certificates of Analysis (CoA) to prove regulatory compliance for each batch as well as batch-by-batch variance analysis and other reports as needed.
Data security & confidentiality
Masks sensitive data from unauthorized user access
Cloud-based LIMS encrypts data at rest and in-transit while transmission between the client and the server
Cloud-based LIMS provides real-time access to laboratory data from anytime anywhere
Cloud-based LIMS enhances real-time communication within a laboratory, between a laboratory and its clients, and across a global organization with multiple sites
Table 1. Key functionality and benefits of LIMS for cannabis testing laboratories
Upon mapping the present day challenges faced by cannabis testing laboratories, adopting laboratory automation solutions becomes imperative. Cloud-based LIMS becomes a valuable tool for laboratory data management in cannabis testing laboratories. In addition to reducing manual workloads, and efficient resource management, it helps labs focus on productive lab operations while achieving compliance and regulatory goals with ease.
Last week at the MJBizCon, a major cannabis industry event held annually in Las Vegas, urban-gro launched the first technology line for cannabis growers utilizing Internet-of-Things (IoT). urban-gro, a cultivation technology company for commercial-scale growers, announced the launch of announced Soleil® Technologies, an integrated portfolio of hardware, software, and services that uses IoT.
“The solution suite includes per-plant sensing, environmental monitoring, machine diagnostics, fertigation management, lighting controls, inventory management, and seed-to-sale tracking,” reads the press release. IoT is essentially a network of devices embedded with sensors and software that allow the devices to connect and exchange data. IoT devices are used extensively in the food industry, including for integrated pest management, restaurant food safety and management and tracking product conditions such as temperature and humidity throughout the supply chain, among other uses.
Soleil consists of three primary lines:
Soleil 360 is the cloud-based software-as-a-service (SASS) platform that integrates all Soleil solutions.
Soleil Sense is the brand for all of urban-gro’s low-power wireless sensors that deliver data with the scale, precision and resolution needed for analytics and machine learning.
Soleil Controls is urban-gro’s product set for climate and irrigation controls, lighting systems, and other focused controls.
The core, low-power sensor that makes this unique was licensed from Edyza, a wireless innovator that specializes in low-power wireless grids that scale. urban-gro then developed on top of that sensor, including its cloud-based management, analytics, what the sensors detect and cover, etc., to make it ideal for cannabis growers.
According to Brad Nattrass, urban-gro’s chief executive officer, finding an IoT solution that can easily scale was a key goal for their business. “When evaluating the most advanced market-ready sensor technology available, it was crucial that we deliver a solution that can easily scale to thousands of sensors in order to satisfy the needs of large-scale commercial cultivators,” says Nattrass. “The introduction of Soleil demonstrates urban-gro’s commitment to going beyond simply supplying equipment, to truly serving our clients as an ongoing technological innovator and advisor, enabling cultivators to leverage today’s more advanced technologies to rise above the competition.”
“Cultivators will be able to monitor substrate moisture and EC (electrical conductivity) levels on a per plant basis, as well as track key environmental metrics like temperature, humidity, air movement, and probability of infestation,” reads the press release. “With multiple device options, cultivators can choose between several deployment options.” With the data hosted on the cloud, users can access it through web browsers, Android and iOS devices.
According to Jay Nichols, a representative of urban-gro, they have hired (and is hiring) code developers, product developers, etc. in order to expand this unit. Plant sensors are just one piece of the system, with the goal to automate the entire cultivation process, including controlling lights, pest management, irrigation and fertigation. They say it will be available in late Q1/early Q2.
Cannabis testing laboratories around the country are expanding quickly, taking on new clients and growing their business incrementally. Many of these labs are receiving a large number of test requests from growers for potency testing, terpene profiling, pesticide screening, residual solvent screening, heavy metal testing, microbial analysis and even genetic testing. To keep pace with the number of test requests received, efficient data, sample and test management is imperative.
Considering the magnitude of cannabis testing, data management using spreadsheets is a serious impediment to quality assurance. Data being recorded in spreadsheets is error-prone and difficult to manage. Furthermore, using spreadsheets does not allow labs to adhere to regulatory guidelines that demand strict accounting for every gram of the sample, right from reception, consumption for testing, to disposal.
To overcome such data management challenges and improve the operational efficiency of cannabis testing laboratories, a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) plays a significant role. LIMS are much more capable than spreadsheets and paper-based tools for managing analytical and operational activities. LIMS enhances the productivity and quality by eliminating the manual data entry. With its built-in audit trail capability, LIMS helps labs adhere to regulatory standards.
LIMS can provide companies with a method to manage samples, records and test results, and ensures regulatory compliance by increasing traceability. LIMS can also be integrated with other lab instrumentation and enterprise systems, enabling easier transmission of information across the lab and the organization, reducing manual efforts and improving decision-making.
Multiple resources are also available to assist labs in preparing for quality assurance and accreditation, LIMS being one of them. LIMS can help cannabis labs with instrument integration, and automate reporting to help improve efficiencies and reduce errors. LIMS, such as CloudLIMS Lite, a cloud-based LIMS, automates cannabis-testing workflows right from sample collection, data recording, managing test chain of custody, sample weight accounting to report generation. With data security and audit trails, a LIMS provides traceable documentary evidence required to achieve ISO 17025 accreditation for highly regulated labs. Above all, cloud-enabled systems are often low in the total cost of acquisition, have maintenance outsourced, and are scalable to help meet the ever-changing business and regulatory compliance needs.
Cloud-based products are secure, easy to deploy and scalable. A cloud product is typically hosted on a server with a guaranteed uptime of 99.5%, allowing for a reliable system, accessible 24×7. Cloud-based LIMS have automatic data backup mechanism that allow for quick turnarounds in case of a server failure or in the eventuality of a natural disaster.
With LIMS in place, cannabis labs can manage sample and requisition-centric records, track sample quantity and location, integrate the test data, and provide online reports to clients. This in turn, reduces the turnaround time for testing and improves the operational efficiency. Besides, audit trail of each and every activity performed by the lab personnel is recorded in the system to ensure that the lab follows regulatory compliance.
Editor’s Note: This is a condensed version of a poster that was submitted and displayed at this year’s Cannabis Science Conference in Portland, Oregon. The authors of the original poster are Arun Apte, Stephen Goldman, Aditi Gade and Shonali Paul.
BioTrackTHC, partnering with the Hawaii Department of Health, is deploying the first live seed-to-sale traceability system for cannabis in a FedRAMP-authorized environment, according to a press release. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a government-wide risk management platform that provides standards for security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. “BioTrackTHC, utilizing Amazon Web Service’s Government Cloud (AWS GovCloud), has met all necessary requirements to host its live government cannabis seed-to-sale Traceability Systems in one of the most secure cloud platforms in the world,” states the press release.
“The BioTrackTHC team invested an incredible amount of time and effort into this high priority project, and we are excited to see it transform from last year’s concept to clean execution,” says Patrick Vo, president and chief executive officer of BioTrackTHC. “We are grateful for the Hawaii Department of Health’s trust in us to get it right the first time.” Hawaii working with BioTrackTHC and AWS GovCloud essentially affords them an ultra-high level of data security in their state traceability program.
“We’re pleased to know that our state’s seed-to-sale Traceability System is now housed in the most secure cloud server available,” says Keith Ridley, chief of the Hawaii DOH Office of Health Care Assurance. “This ensures safety and comfort for our licensees, business operators, and our patients, who can all be confident in knowing their business data and protected patient information is being stored in the most secure traceability system in the world.” The FedRAMP decision-making body is comprised of the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) from the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the General Services Administration, with additional collaboration from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Security Agency, Office of Management and Budget, and the Federal CIO Council.
The FedRAMP standards include “400 security measures and allows government agencies to use these and only these cloud environments for high-impact data where the loss of data confidentiality, integrity, or availability could be expected to have a severe or catastrophic effect on organizational operations, assets, or individuals,” according to the press release. Essentially this means that they meet the highest security requirements of the program.
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