According to a press release sent out last week, Liberty Health Sciences announced that the British Standards Institution (BSI) awarded the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification for a facility located in Gainesville, Florida. The certification covers their 10,000 square foot medical cannabis manufacturing facility, where much of their extraction and processing takes place. Liberty also operates a large cultivation space at the same campus.
“it demonstrates our commitment to producing the highest quality and safest products possible for our customers throughout the state of Florida”According to Jessica Engle, director of regulatory compliance for Liberty, they actually did much more than just a GMP certification, including designing a HACCP plan. “In addition to GMP compliance, Liberty has gone above and beyond the DOH requirements to create a fully operational HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan that helps ensure the products we produce are safe for consumers,” says Engle. “The basis for HACCP is a scientific approach to preventative risk analysis. Every time a process changes, equipment changes, or raw material changes, our HACCP team meets to identify potential physical, chemical, and microbiological risks. Preventative measures are then put into place to help reduce the likelihood of the contamination hazard from ever occurring.”
Florida’s regulations on medical cannabis producers and processors actually require a form of certification demonstrating proper food safety protocols. “Within 12 months after licensure, a medical marijuana treatment center must demonstrate to the department that all of its processing facilities have passed a Food Safety Good Manufacturing Practices, such as Global Food Safety Initiative or equivalent, inspection by a nationally accredited certifying body,” reads Rule 9 in the 2017 Florida Statute. Edibles producers in Florida “must hold a permit to operate as a food establishment pursuant to chapter 500, the Florida Food Safety Act, and must comply with all the requirements for food establishments pursuant to chapter 500 and any rules adopted thereunder.” The rules also lay out requirements for packaging, dosage and sanitation rules for storage, display and dispensing of edible products.
Also according to the press release, the company is expecting to grow immensely, saying they will add an additional 160,000 square feet of cultivation space at their Gainesville campus. George Scorsis, CEO of Liberty Health Sciences, says this GMP certification is an important landmark for them. “Receiving GMP certification at an additional facility is a major milestone for Liberty Health Sciences and it demonstrates our commitment to producing the highest quality and safest products possible for our customers throughout the state of Florida,” says Scorsis. “This achievement reflects the incredibly high standards we expect of ourselves and that our clients expect as a patient provider. We will continue to produce the highest quality products and exceed production standards that surpass even the most stringent regulatory requirements.”
Liberty has dispensaries, manufacturing facilities and cannabis education centers all over Florida. They have plans to launch a large number of locations in 2019, including ones in Boca Raton, Ft. Myers, Miami, Orlando and more.
Manufacturers of cannabis products need a program tailored to the cannabis industry that helps assure the safety of cannabis products with respect to known hazards such as pesticides, residual solvents, microbial impurities, heavy metals and mycotoxins. Deibel Cannabis Laboratories has developed a course that that will teach those manufacturing cannabis products how to manage known product safety hazards using a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system.
HACCP has a long history of use in the food industry based on preventing potential hazards from occurring rather than reacting to issues when they arise. This program was started in the US but is globally recognized, used by food companies around the world to help produce safe products for consumers. Deibel Cannabis Laboratories applies the same prevention based system of HACCP to the creation of safe and wholesome cannabis goods whether they be edible, medicinal or topical. They also explore ways cultivators can use HACCP principles in their operation.12
Deibel Labs was founded by Dr. Robert Deibel in the 1970’s. Dr. Deibel is one of the original pioneers of HACCP, expanding the program from its original three HACCP principles to the seven principles we recognize today. Dr. Deibel developed the first “HACCP Short Course,” teaching this prevention-based program to food industry leaders in the 1970s.
According to Charles Deibel, president of Deibel Labs, this is an important step for the cannabis space. “Deibel Labs is proud to continue in our historic role as leaders in HACCP training by providing the cannabis industry with a training course developed by Deibel Labs associates who are International HACCP Alliance accredited lead instructors with years of experience in crafting and implementing HACCP plans for the food industry.”
They are launching a pilot two-day Cannabis HACCP Class to select clients at the end of January in Santa Cruz, CA. The full Cannabis HACCP course schedule for 2019 is currently in development. Accreditation by the HACCP Alliance is expected by early January, assuring that a standardized and internationally recognized training curriculum is provided by accredited instructors.
The course is forward-thinking, anticipating that sometime in the near future cannabis manufacturers will be required to control and document the safe production, handling and preparation of products according to state or even federal regulatory standards. Participants will be able to develop their own model HACCP program in an interactive group learning environment.
Understand how Prerequisite Programs provide the foundation on which HACCP programs are built including GMPs, Sanitation and Pest Control Programs
Be able to identify where and how product safety problems can occur using a Hazard Analysis that considers Biological, Chemical and Physical Hazards
Gain the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to develop effective Critical Controls, formulate corrective actions, conduct program verification and validation activities
Learn how to document activities and maintain records
Stay tuned for more information on when the 2019 course schedule is announced and how to register.
Bearing through four voluntarily recalls in the first two months since the transition window ended, the California cannabis industry showed its commitment to providing safe goods for its consumers. Recalls are considered the removal of products deemed unsafe at the point of retail. With unsafe product already on shelves, it is that much more important to have a thought out strategy if a recall need arises. Currently, the California Department of Public Health-Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch is the only regulatory agency in the state of California with recall stipulations for California cannabis companies. Thus, the onus is on individual cannabis companies to initiate their own recall plans.
Why establish a recall plan if one is not compulsory? To start, a cannabis product recall is more challenging than recalls in other industries because of the classification as a Schedule 1 drug and the misunderstanding and stigma of the drug that promotes fake news. These considerations affect the way both the government officials and consumers perceive cannabis recalls – not preparing ahead of time could be devastating to your brand. Furthermore, a recall is not just a one day headache – in December 2017, the Inspector General of Department of Health and Human Services found that food companies took 57 days on average to initiate a recall after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first learned a product was potentially hazardous. Not only is a recall tricky to navigate and time intensive, a recall can also be costly – a joint study by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association (GMA) in the USA found that 77% of the study respondents estimated the financial impact to be up to $30 million dollars; 23% reported even higher costs. One major factor of the financial impact to consider is that many retailers do not remove only the affected products, instead sweeping entire lines and brands. To estimate how much a food recall would cost your company, researchers Moises Resende-Filho and Brian Burr developed a model to estimate the direct costs of a food recall. To take a step back, it is true that, while recalls can be tricky to navigate, time intensive and costly, recalls are generally infrequent. At the same time, you never know where or when a recall could happen. For example, your manufacturing process might be flawless, but a supplier may suddenly issue a recall or the retail facility is compromised. Moreover, not all recalls are equal – imagine that consumers would react differently to an undeclared allergen on the label versus a life threatening pathogen in a product distributed to patients with weakened immune systems. Ergo, it is strategic for every cannabis company (grower, manufacturer, retail, etc.) to have a recall plan to be ready for any type of recall situation.
Take these 6 tips in designing a recall plan:
Before a Recall
1) Be familiar with how recalls work by staying up to date with recalls
3) Record everything that was said and done. If there was no prewritten recall plan, during a recall is a good time as any to begin documenting all actions and communication – internal within the management team and external with business partners (suppliers, retailers) and external with the consumers.
4) Find the flaw in the product. Why is the product being recalled? This is important to know, whether it was your item or not, to better answer the next question of “What happens with the recalled product?” The most common causes for a recall in the USA are identified in the joint study mentioned above by the FMI and GMA.
After a Recall
5) Reevaluate the recall plan. Compare to a reputable third-party auditing standard (example here is Safe Quality Food Institute’s SQF Food Safety Code for Manufacturing Edition 8). Updates to the recall plan are inevitable and constant. The changes may be due to updates in company products, adjustments in the recall network or the experience gained when going through a recall. Also keep an eye out for updates to templates of recall plans. Conduct mock recalls with different recall origins.
6) Reevaluate the food safety plan. After finding the flaw in the product, identify the flaw in the process and improve. Examples to improve the food safety plan may be to: amend the supplier approval program, refine process flow, polish the sanitation program or revise the preventative maintenance program. The foundation of a recall plan is having a robust food safety plan to minimize the risk of running a recall.
The Food Safety Consortium, taking place November 13-15 in Schaumburg, Illinois, will host a series of talks geared towards the cannabis industry this year. The newly launched Cannabis Quality Track features a number of panels and presentations designed to highlight the many intersections between food safety and cannabis.
The track will have presentations discussing food safety planning in cannabis manufacturing, HACCP, GMPs, regulatory compliance and supply chain issues among other areas.
Ben Gelt, board chair of the Cannabis Certification Council, is moderating a panel titled What’s In My Weed? that will delve into issues like supply chain, production and other difficulties in creating cannabis products and the challenges inherent in teaching consumers to be more discerning.
Ben Gelt and the Cannabis Certification Council orchestrated the development of this panel to help promote their #WhatsInMyWeed consumer awareness and education campaign. “The Cannabis Certification Council believes consumer education campaigns like #Whatsinmyweed are critical to drive standards and transparency like we see in food,” says Gelt. “What better place to discuss the food safety challenges the cannabis industry faces than the Food Safety Consortium”
Before Kim Stuck founded Allay Compliance Consulting, she was the first Marijuana Specialist for a public health authority in the nation, where she was working with regulators in Denver, Colorado. She is currently a cannabis food safety expert and a Certified Professional of Food Safety (CP-FS) through NEHA. She has helped Colorado and California develop cannabis food safety requirements. “I will discuss pitfalls we have experienced in the regulation of cannabis in Denver and what mistakes not to make,” says Stuck. “I’d also like to talk about how to be prepared for when those regulators start to come in to facilities.”
Kristen Hill is the MIP Director at Native Roots, arguably one of the largest dispensary chains in the world. She oversees 30 employees in Native Roots’ MIP facility where product testing and quality assurance of products are all led under her guidance. Her background includes managing quality assurance and regulatory compliance with FDA regulations, among other areas. She said she’s particularly excited to talk about implementing manufacturing best practices in the cannabis space. “Cannabis is maturing and is beginning to shape operations around long standing best practices in other industries,” says Hill.
Leslie Siu brings to the panel 17 years of liquor, tobacco and pharma marketing and operational oversight plus global digital and experiential campaigns. Her company, Mother & Clone, produces infused, sublingual cannabis sprays. Based in Colorado, Mother & Clone’s team of biochemists are Merck alumni, currently working towards GMP standards in preparation for Canada, slated to be on shelf in the spring of 2019. Her main consideration for cannabis product development comes from what she has learned from the FDA in traditional industries- what they will and will not tolerate.
With all the attention on the pending regs for the recreational industry in Canada plus the huge medical market under construction in the EU, it is easy to forget the other cannabis discussion in the room right now. Namely CBD in commercial food ingredients and supplements. Battles in the beauty space, while surfacing, are still much less avidly fought.
As a result, edible CBD is also rapidly becoming (another) big green elephant in the room. Globally. Starting with all the changing rules about mostly medical use of cannabinoids in general.
In Europe, however, this is already a different animal.
The regulatory hammer also appears to be coming down in strategic country markets, with strange hybrid fights and issues emerging as a result.
For example, as cannabis crops (designed for both markets) begin to flourish in Spain buoyed by both the clubs in Barcelona and the growth of legitimate medical and other kinds of cannabis cultivation across the country – and much of that for export, authorities are cracking down on a federal level about labelling of not cannabis bound for clubs, but the CBD used in edibles.
In the last month, CBD industry blogs are reporting that the Spanish government is sending both warning letters to distributors and the police are apparently taking products off of shelves directly.
A Brief Modern History Of CBD Controversies On The Continent
The current complications have their roots in both the regulation of medical cannabis, health supplements and what are called “novelty” food items.
The food issue has been cooking for several years and for botanicals and additives far from cannabidiol. This year, on January 1, however, the entire EU brought in a new directive about the use of certain plants in food which seems to be affecting the edible cannabis conversation all over the continent. That said, countries are interpreting the same at different speeds and with different enthusiasm.
Switzerland (not a member of the EU) is actually the only country on the European continent where so far, things have gone relatively smoothly. Their lack of EU membership is actually why. This also does not mean they have overcome some of the larger problems inherent in this entire discussion, but, if things go to form, it will be relatively drama free.
That is not the case in other places.
For example, at the end of 2016, British authorities made a splash about medical labelling with the Medicine and Health Care products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) also leaving the entire edibles discussion in limbo. Technically, low strength CBD can be sold in the UK but it must be labelled as a food product if not specifically made for the medical market. That flap is likely to take off again with the direct competition now of not only Tilray but Namaste and the changing scheduling of cannabis in the UK to a Schedule II in October. See the recent furore over the “unauthorized claims” supposedly made by the nascent Cannabis Trades Association in meeting, lobbying if not “working” with local authorities. The organization has literally blossomed within the last 18 months to over 300 members and 1,200 sellers in part to figure out what exactly the rules are, as authorities grapple with changing times.
Now jump the channel to Spain. The international focus of late has not been just the medical cannabis now sprouting in greenhouses owned by established pharmaceutical companies, or that bound for semi medical use in Barcelona, but the entire CBD edibles discussion.
On some levels, it is clearly an attempt to continue to set less than grey rules for the Spanish cannabis industry, which even in the club scene is regulating. But beyond that, this fight is altogether more complicated, and far from just regional, or even just a Spanish conversation.
European Food Regulation Meets The Cannabis Industry
CBD in edible products will, according to European regulation, make it a novel food or “additive” – namely that products containing the cannabinoid have not been used “safely”. Translated into English that crosses cultural boundaries, this definition really means that the substance in question must have been part of a regulated federal procedure – for at least 25 years in any third country. As such, it will have to be tested and regulated accordingly.In other words, until the EU can move to classify CBD as a novel food, in Spain, CBD products on the market must be labelled “external use only.”
One does not have to be an industry analyst to know this clearly excludes all parts of the cannabis plant. Everywhere. This is why the situation now unfolding in Spain is all the more worrying for the industry across Europe.
In Spain at least, the crackdown appears to be on any food item containing cannabis, which, according to European-wide regulations, has yet to be classified as a “novel food.” Namely, a food product which has not been consumed in a significant degree in the EU before May 15, 1987. See the guide for new applicants here.
In other words, until the EU can move to classify CBD as a novel food, in Spain, CBD products on the market must be labelled “external use only.”
Where Does This Leave The CBD Industry Across Europe?
As any manufacturer or vendor in any EU country could technically be required to register their new food, this means that cannabis producers and distributors in Europe need to be on their toes for the next several years as the regulatory schemata is worked out. Bottom line? Expect as much hullabaloo over this sector of the market as other places (even if over other issues).Both producers and distributors could easily face labelling problems
Here is the critical take-away. Regulation is coming to the entire industry in Europe in a way unseen in both Canada and the U.S. and from a much more granular perspective.
What “reigns in Spain” in other words right now, is a wake-up call for CBD producers across the continent, even if not involved in the medical space. Not to mention both U.S. and Canadian producers (in particular) looking for profitable market entry strategies. Labelling and standards, in other words, are clearly on the way, and beyond the drawing board, for all cannabinoids, not just those of the “medical” kind.
In the meantime, edible CBD products in Europe and in every country are ripe for the institution of new guidelines that are, as yet, formalized. Both producers and distributors, therefore, could easily face labelling problems for all their CBD products and product lines for the next several years.
The 6thAnnual Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo will feature an entire track dedicated to cannabis. As announced in May of this year, the Cannabis Quality series will feature presentations by subject matter experts in the areas of regulations, edibles manufacturing, cannabis safety & quality as well as laboratory testing.
The Food Safety Consortium is hosted by our sister publication, Food Safety Tech, and the Cannabis Quality series will be co-hosted by Cannabis Industry Journal. A number of cannabis-focused organizations will participate in the series of talks, which are designed to help attendees better understand the cannabis edibles market, regulations surrounding the industry and standards for manufacturers. Some highlights include the following:
Ben Gelt, board chairman at the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), will moderate a panel where leaders in the edibles market discuss supply chain, production and other difficulties in manufacturing infused products. Panelists include Leslie Siu, Founder/CEO Mother & Clone, Jenna Rice, Director of Operations at Gron and Kristen Hill, MIP Director, Native Roots Dispensary, among others. “The Cannabis Certification Council believes consumer education campaigns like #Whatsinmyweed are critical to drive standards and transparency like we see in food,” says Gelt. “What better place to discuss the food safety challenges the cannabis industry faces than the Food Safety Consortium”
Radojka Barycki, CEO of Nova Compliance, will discuss the role of food safety in the cannabis industry and identify some biological and chemical hazards in cannabis product testing in her talk, “Cannabis: A Compliance Revolution.”
Cameron Prince, vice president of regulatory affairs at The Acheson Group, will help attendees better understand key market indicators and current trends in edibles manufacturing during his talk on November 15. “With the current trend of legalizing cannabis edibles, medicinal and recreational suppliers alike are looking to quickly enter the edibles market,” says Prince. “Understanding the nuances of moving to food production relative to food safety, along with navigating the food industry’s regulatory environment will be critical to the success of these companies.”
Tim Lombardo and Marielle Weintraub, both from Covance Food Solutions, will identify common pathogens and areas where cross contamination can occur for edibles manufacturers.
The Food Safety Consortium will be held November 13–15 in Schaumburg, Illinois (just outside of Chicago). To see the full list of presenters and register for the conference, go the Food Safety Consortium’s website.
Now that governments are legalizing cannabis around the world, the question looms for cannabis businesses seeking legitimacy in the new industry: what safety standards should apply? This question is more difficult as different jurisdictions grapple with defining and implementing legal requirements and struggle to keep up with the pace of growth.
For visionary cannabis business, it makes sense to anticipate requirements – not only from governments, but also from consumers and partners. Most regulations currently focus on security and basic health issues but, in the long-term, the industry that may offer the best model for cannabis businesses isn’t pharmaceuticals, but food. Cannabis (especially edibles) share similar hazards and traceability challenges with food products, so taking the lead from the food industry will be much more applicable and could offer greater benefits.
Companies that achieve the highest and most flexible certification will enjoy a crucial competitive advantage when it comes to winning market share, popularity and consumer trust. Let’s take a quick look at the different options of food safety (and quality) certifications that cannabis businesses may consider. But first, let’s clarify two important definitions that are necessary to understand the food industry.
Basic Concepts from the Food Industry
The first acronym you should be aware of is GFSI, the Global Food Safety Initiative. GFSI is a food industry-driven global collaboration body created to advance food safety. When it comes to understanding GFSI, the important part to note is that certifications recognized by GFSI (like SQF, FSSC 22000, and BRC) are universally accepted. Companies operating under GFSI-recognized certifications open the most doors to the most markets, providing the highest potential for growth. For this reason, cannabis companies should be aware of and seriously consider seeking GFSI certifications
Secondly, many food safety programs are built around Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, or HACCP. While many people may talk about HACCP like it’s a certification in and of itself, it is not actually a certification like the others on this list, but rather a methodology that helps companies systematically identify and control biological, chemical, and physical hazards that may arise during food production, handling, and distribution. Companies that adopt this methodology end up with a HACCP plan, which must then be followed at all times to avoid and address health and safety issues. It’s often required for food businesses and is generally required in most of the world, except where ISO 22000 is more common, primarily in Europe and countries whose primary export market is European. Since HACCP plans are also incorporated into most of the other achievable certifications, developing a HACCP program early will build a strong foundation for higher levels of certification.
Certifications for the Cannabis Industry
Now that we understand the basics of GFSI and HACCP, we can see how the certifications that have been developed by and for the food industry may apply to cannabis companies – and which you should consider necessary for your business.
GMP: Good Manufacturing Practice Certification
GMP (or sometimes cGMP) certification requires that companies abide by a set of good manufacturing processes for food and beverage products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, dietary supplements and medical devices. Since it really only covers basic sanitation and employee hygiene, it is considered the lowest level of certification in the industry. It is not recognized by GFSI, but GFSI does require all the standard benchmarks of a GMP be met before granting GFSI certification.
While GMP certification is often required, it is far below the standard that should be upheld by any serious businesses. It doesn’t cover many of the different types of hazards associated with food production – that I have argued will become increasingly relevant to cannabis producers – and doesn’t provide a systematic approach to identifying and controlling hazards like a HACCP program would. It’s really just about providing the basic procedures and checks to ensure that the facility is clean and that employees aren’t contaminating the products.
Final Verdict: Recommended, but as the bare minimum. GMP is not sufficient on its own to adequately control the risk of recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks, and it limits a company’s market potential because it lacks the GFSI worldwide stamp of approval.
Some companies consider GMP certification a good place to start if you’re on a tight deadline for distribution in markets where only GMP is required by regulators. I would argue that striving for the minimum standards will be costly in the long run. Health, safety and quality standards are the foundations upon which winning companies are built. It’s critical to develop a corporate culture that will lead to GFSI-recognized programs without major organizational overhaul. Start on the right foot and set your sights higher – obtain a certification that will stand the test of time and avoid the pain and risks of trying to change entrenched behaviors.
SQF: Safe Quality Food Program Certification
SQF is my number one recommendation as the best certification for the cannabis industry. One of the most common certifications in North America, SQF is a food safety management system recognized by retailers and consumers alike. It is administered by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and, importantly, recognized by GFSI, which gives companies a huge competitive edge. SQF focuses on the whole supply chain.
SQF was also the first to develop a cannabis program and is currently the leader in this market segment. It is also the scheme that best integrates food safety with quality. Since it is recognized worldwide, SQF provides the greatest leverage to accelerate a company’s growth. Once obtained, products with SQF certification can often jump the queue to enter different regulatory markets.
Final verdict: Highly recommended. A cannabis company with an SQF certification has the greatest advantage because it offers the broadest worldwide reach and keeps companies a step ahead of competitors. It’s also achievable – just this past April, Curaleaf Florida ostensibly became the first cannabis company to achieve SQF certification. It is tough, but fair and practical.
Other Certification Standards
SQF is the top certification that should be considered by cannabis companies, especially outside of Europe. However, the food industry has several other major types of standards that, at this time, have limited relevance to the cannabis industry today. Let’s take a quick look.
When considering GFSI-recognized programs, the main choice for food companies is between SQF, which we’ve covered, and BRC (the British Retail Consortium Certification). BRC has the most in common with SQF but, while SQF was originally developed for processed foods, BRC was developed in the UK for meat products. Today, they are quite similar, but BRC doesn’t focus quite as much on the quality component as SQF does. While BRC could be a good option, they don’t have a program for cannabis and, thus far, do not appear to be as friendly toward the cannabis industry.The food industry has a lot to offer cannabis companies that are anticipating future regulatory changes and market advantages
Across the pond, there are a few other certification standards that are more common than SQF. One of these is ISO 22000, which is the certification for the food-related standard created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Europe. It is not recognized by GFSI but is the primary system used in Europe. If your market is exclusively in the EU, it might be a good choice for you in the future. However, to date, there is no indication that any cannabis company has achieved ISO 22000 certification. Some cannabis companies have attained certification for other ISO standards like ISO 9001:2015, which specifies requirements for quality control systems, and ISO/IEC 17025 for laboratory testing. These are generally more relevant for the pharmaceutical industry than food and beverage, but still apply to cannabis.
There is the perception that cannabis is more accepted in EU countries like the Netherlands, but the regulatory attitude to cannabis is complicated. In the Netherlands, for example, cannabis isn’t actually legal – “coffee shops” fall under a toleration policy that doesn’t include regulation. Medical cannabis in the Netherlands is all produced by one supplier and several countries in the EU allow for licensed distribution and import, but not domestic production. Various EU countries are trying to keep up with the legalization trend, however. The Czech Republic, Germany, and others all recently introduced legislation for domestic production of cannabis for medical use. For companies with their eye on the EU, it is crucial to watch which regulatory requirements will be implemented in each market and how.
The last certification standard to mention is the result of a compromise between ISO and the more HACCP oriented programs like SQF. FSSC 22000 (Food Safety System Certification) tries to address the gaps between ISO 22000 and GFSI-recognized certifications by introducing another component called PAS 220. Since it is recognized by GFSI, FSSC 22000 is starting to get more traction in the food industry because it makes products a bit easier to export to the EU. FSSC 22000 satisfies the EU ISO standards but isn’t as closely tied to HACCP. We will be keeping an eye on this one.
The food industry has a lot to offer cannabis companies that are anticipating future regulatory changes and market advantages – but it’s difficult for cannabis companies to understand all the options available and how each apply to their specific products. While markets adjust beyond the preliminary issue of legality, it’s crucial for companies to look forward and comply with safety and quality standards like SQF. Companies who strive for SQF certification (or other GFSI-recognized certifications as they become available) will find themselves far better prepared to seize market share as cannabis markets blossom.
Are you a product designer in the edible cannabis market? Well, you live at the intersection of the food and pharmaceutical industries and need to know both worlds, utilizing best-practice product development principles, regardless of which industry you are working in. In the cannabis industry, this means knowing your chemistry principles, food science, food safety, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs, applicable to the food industry) along with the more intense records and documentation requirements of the pharmaceutical industry.
California is the most recent state to implement legal recreational cannabis. It is estimated to deliver $7.7B in sales by 2021, including a reduction of medical use cannabis and an uptake of adult recreational use. How often do you live at the inception of such a potentially enormous market? Not often, so product developers, here is an opportunity. However, with that opportunity comes the responsibility. A recent emergency legislation adopted by the California Cannabis Safety Branch states:
Operational Requirements Licensees must have written procedures for inventory control, quality control, transportation, security and cannabis waste disposal. Descriptions of these procedures or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) must be submitted with the annual license application. Cannabis waste cannot be sold, must be placed in a secured area and be disposed of according to applicable waste management laws. Good manufacturing practices must be followed to ensure production occurs in a sanitary and hazard-free environment, cannabis products are contaminant free and THC levels are consistent throughout the product and within required limits. Extractions using CO2 or a volatile solvent must be conducted using a closed-loop system, certified by a California-licensed engineer. Volatile, hydrocarbon-based solvents must have at least 99% purity. Finally, volatile solvent, CO2 and ethanol extractions must be certified by the local fire code official.
Once developers have decided on a product, research and education to develop a good understanding of the regulatory environment is a must. For example, in order to develop compliant cannabis edibles, compliance with state, and in some cases local regulations, for food and cannabis must be met. Proactive compliance is a big part of designing a successful product in the most efficient manner.The attention to detail here will create a safe and satisfying experience for consumers as they receive a consistent product every time.
As a product developer you must first know the incoming cannabis plant characteristics to determine what type of cannabinoids they contain to determine what types you wish to source. This requires a strong and well documented supplier program that can identify reliable suppliers of high purity and consistent cannabis raw materials, the same principles that are typically required of food manufacturers. When looking for examples of credible ingredient supplier programs, looking at those used by the food industry is a good start. Make sure supplier management programs apply to all the raw materials and direct-contact packaging that you plan to use in your new product.
Once reliable sources of raw material have been secured, the next challenge is to conduct periodic tests of cannaboids levels found in your incoming cannabis. With this information, you need to adjust blending amounts to reflect the correct cannaboid dose in the finished ready-to-eat (RTE) product. Like any other medicinal product, the active ingredient dosage will directly impact the effect on the consumer, thus it is important that you, the manufacturer, are completely aware of the exact cannaboid levels in your incoming ingredients, your blending amounts and your final product levels. This will require a robust either in-plant or commercial laboratory testing program. There is a great deal of technology and chemical analyses available to help dose the product accurately. This must also include robust testing and verification steps. If a consumer of your product were to over-consume from “normal” consumption rates of your cannabis-based food product, the liability, both financial, civil, ethical and criminal would fall on your company. The attention to detail here will create a safe and satisfying experience for consumers as they receive a consistent product every time.
design your products with commercial manufacturing viability in mindOnce regulatory responsibilities for manufacturing and marketing a cannabis-based food product have been met, so that you may sell a compliant and consistent product, it is time to add some creative juices and make the product interesting and enjoyable to consumers. With cannabis edibles, for example, explore what sort of food is appealing to consumers. Consider when, where and with whom your potential customers would be eating that food. Evaluate the best packaging design and size to suit the occasion. Ensure the packaging is child resistant yet practical for adult consumers. And above all manufacture a food that is delicious. Curiosity will attract your customers for the first time but quality and consistency will keep them coming back.
Product developers are usually fantastic at developing great lab scale products, but part of a developer’s job is to ensure that the design and manufacturing process is scalable for consistent and compliant commercial manufacturing. So design your products with commercial manufacturing viability in mind. Try to minimize the number of ingredients whilst still making a consumer-desirable product. Finally, rationalize your ingredients across your portfolio to avoid overcrowding the warehouse and risking expired ingredients.
If successful, your consumers will desire your product, your compliance team will be satisfied, your manufacturing partners will be thankful, the State of California will determine that you are fully compliant and your sales team’s job will have great business and professional success. In the end, you will have developed and launched a successful legacy product!
“Your tomatoes are organic. What about your weed?” The language on their homepage is clear: Consumers should seek the same high standards in their cannabis just as they do with food.
Earlier in the month, The Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), a nonprofit that promotes organic and fair trade practices in the cannabis industry, announced the launch of their #WhatsInMyWeed campaign. The consumer education initiative is designed to draw parallels between what buying choices people make in food and cannabis.
The consumer-facing idea is to produce videos and ads that make people question the ethics and environmental sustainability of their cannabis, just as they do when purchasing organic, fair trade-certified produce. According to Amy Andrle, owner of L’Eagle Services in Denver and board member with the CCC, the campaign should benefit cannabis companies that produce ethical and sustainable products. “This campaign is long overdue and much needed to alert consumers about the quality of their cannabis and begin to reward producers of organic, fair trade, sustainable and other high quality and integrity products just as they are in other consumer categories,” says Andrle. “We believe the campaign and accompanying website will drive demand and increase transparency in the cannabis industry.”
According to the press release, the website has a listing of cannabis certifications currently available now, information about them and where consumers can find certified products. Companies can sign up for the #WhatsInMyWeed Pledge as well to let consumers know they produce clean products.
The technology portfolio, aimed at larger, commercial-scale growers, is essentially a network of monitors, sensors and controls that give cultivators real-time data on things like temperature, humidity, light, barometric pressure and other key factors. The idea of using IoT and hypersensitive monitoring is not new to horticulture, food or agriculture, but this is certainly a very new development for the cannabis growing space.
According to Brad Nattrass, chief executive officer and co-founder of urban-gro, it’s technology like this that’ll help growers control microclimates, helping them make the minor adjustments needed to ultimately improve yield and quality. “As ROI and optimized yields become increasingly important for commercial cultivators, the need for technologies that deliver rich granular data and real-time insights becomes critical,” says Nattrass. “With the ability to comprehensively sense, monitor, and control the microclimates throughout your facility in real-time, cultivators will be able to make proactive decisions to maximize yields.”
One of the more exciting aspects of this platform is the integration of sensors, and controls with automation. With the system monitoring and controlling fertigation, lighting and climate, it can detect when conditions are not ideal, which gives a cultivator valuable insights for directing pest management or HVAC decisions, according to Dan Droller, vice president of corporate development with urban-gro. “As we add more data, for example, adding alerts for when temperatures falls or humidity spikes can tell a grower to be on the lookout for powdery mildew,” says Droller. “We saw a corner of a bench get hot in the system’s monitoring, based on predefined alerts, which told us a bench fan was broken.” Hooking up a lot of these nodes and sensors with IoT and their platform allows the grower to get real-time monitoring on the entire operation, from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Droller says using more and more sensors creates super high-density data, which translates to being able to see a problem quickly and regroup on the fly. “Cannabis growers need to maintain ideal conditions, usually they do that with a handful of sensors right now,” says Droller. “They get peace of mind based on two or three sensors sending data points back. Our technology scales to the plant and bench level, connecting all of the aggregate data in one automated system.”
In the future, urban-gro is anticipating this will lay the groundwork for using artificial intelligence to learn when controls need to be adjusted based on the monitoring. Droller hopes to see the data from environmental conditions mapped with yield and by strain type, which could allow for ultra-precise breeding based on environmental conditions. “As we add more and more data and develop the platform further, we can deliver some elements of AI in the future, with increased controls and more scientific data,” says Droller.
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