Back in late September, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), the regulatory body overseeing the Oregon cannabis market, issued an “Order of Immediate License Suspension” for Ecotest Labs, based in Phoenix, Oregon. In a press release, the OLCC says that the licensee, Proper Rental Management, LLC doing business as Ecotest Labs, made a number of violations.
The Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP) is the regulatory body that oversees cannabis testing labs in the state. Back in July, they told the OLCC that they suspended Ecotest’s accreditations for failing to meet required procedures and standards.
The OLCC said that “continued operation represents a serious danger to the public health and safety.” ORELAP had suspicions that the lab moved testing instruments to an unlicensed location in Hillsboro, just outside of Portland, where they were conducting unlicensed testing. OLCC then launched an investigation into the lab.
Ecotest Labs told the OLCC they were having problems with their accreditation and thought they had been recertified. In August of this year, Ecotest Labs told the OLCC they were moving products for testing to the Hillsboro location, but said (incorrectly) that ORELAP rules allowed that to happen.
After digging into the METRC accounts for tracking cannabis products, the OLCC found the lab was continuing to move products for testing to the unlicensed location. There was no application submitted for the Hillsboro location.
The OLCC expanded their investigation to include other Oregon regulatory agencies in September. But on or around September 9, Ecotest’s lab was destroyed by the Almeda wildfire. At that point, they no longer had a licensed facility to conduct testing, but were still doing so in that Hillsboro location.
The OLCC says more than 160 cannabis businesses in the state sent products for potency testing through the lab after August 21, which now need to be re-tested. Regulators placed an administrative hold in METRC to prevent products from being distributed that were tested by Ecotest Labs.
While the investigation is still ongoing, Ecotest Labs has the ability to challenge the regulators’ actions and call for an administrative hearing. While the OLCC works with licensees impacted by the wildfires to help them in relocating, they said many of the violations occurred prior to the wildfire destroying their business.
Steve Stadlmann has an extensive background as an analytical chemist working in laboratories since the early 90’s. He is now a sales specialist at PerkinElmer, an analytical instrument manufacturer that provides instruments for cannabis testing labs, in addition to a host of other industries. With over two decades of experience working in environmental testing labs, food and beverage labs and agricultural testing labs, Stadlmann is extremely familiar with the instruments used in cannabis labs.
In 2014, he started working in the cannabis space with TriQ, Inc., a technology solutions provider for cannabis growers, where he worked in product development on a line of nutrients. In April of 2016, he started working at Juniper Analytics, a cannabis-testing laboratory in Bend, Oregon. As laboratory director there, he created their quality manual, quality assurance plan, SOP’s and all the technical documentation for ORELAP accreditation. He developed new methodologies for cannabis testing industry for residual solvents, terpene profiles and potency analysis. He worked with PerkinElmer on pesticide methodology for the QSight™ Triple Quadrupole LC/MS/MS system and implemented operational procedures and methods for LC-UV, GCMS and LC-MS/MS, including sample prep for cannabis products.
He left Juniper Analytics about two months ago to work with PerkinElmer as a sales specialist. With extensive experience in helping get Juniper’s lab accredited, he is a wealth of knowledge on all things cannabis laboratory accreditation. PerkinElmer will be hosting a free webinar on September 12th that takes a deep dive into all things cannabis lab accreditation. Ahead of the upcoming webinar, Getting Accreditation in the Cannabis Industry, we sit down with Stadlmann to hear his observations on what instruments he recommends for accreditation, and processes and procedures to support that. Take a look at our conversation below to get a glimpse into what this webinar will discuss.
CannabisIndustryJournal: How can cannabis labs prepare for accreditation with selecting instrumentation?
Steve: Finding the appropriate instrumentation for the regulations is crucial. Ensuring the instrumentation not only has the capabilities of analyzing all the required compounds, but also able to achieve appropriate detection limit requirements. In addition, having an instrument manufacturer as a partner, that is willing and able to assist in method development, implementation and continued changes to the testing requirements at the state level (and potentially national level) is key.
Another consideration is robustness of the equipment. The instrumentation must be capable of high throughput for fast turnaround times of results. Unlike the environmental industry, the cannabis industry has consumer products with expiration dates. Clients demand quick turnaround of results to get product to market as quickly as possible and avoid sitting on inventory for any length of time.
To add to the robustness need, sample matrices in the cannabis industry can be quite challenging in relation to analytical instrumentation. Equipment that is able to handle these matrices with minimal downtime for routine service is becoming a requirement to maintain throughput needs of the industry.
CIJ: What are the most crucial procedures and practices for achieving ISO 17025 accreditation?
Steve: Development and documentation of processes and procedures following Good Laboratory Practices and procedures is essential to a successful accreditation process. Great attention must be paid to the quality objectives of the laboratory as well as associated documentation, including tracking of any errors, deviations, updates, complaints, etc.
Data integrity is a key component to any accrediting body and includes implementation and/or development of appropriate methods with support data proving acceptable results. In addition, documentation of all procedures and processes along with tracking of all steps in the process during routine laboratory work should be a priority. The ability to show a complete, documented trail of all procedures done to any sample is important in ensuring the results can be reproduced and ensuring no deviations occurred, in turn potentially causing questionable results.
Last but not least: training. Laboratory staff should be well versed in any procedures they are involved in to ensure high data quality and integrity. If any laboratory staff does not receive appropriate training in any operating procedures, the data quality becomes suspect.
CIJ: What are some of the biggest obstacles or pitfalls cannabis labs face when trying to get accredited?
Steve: Not fully preparing to meet any agency and testing regulations and requirements will cause delays in the accreditation process and potentially more work for the laboratory. From documentation to daily operations, if any aspect becomes a major finding for an auditor, additional data is usually required to prove the error has been fixed satisfactorily.
Taking the time early on to ensure all documentation, processes and procedures are adhering to any regulatory agency requirements is important for a smooth accreditation process. It is easy to overlook small details when building out the operating procedures that might be essential in the process. Again, going back to data quality, the laboratory must ensure all steps are outlined and documented to ensure high quality (reproducible) data and integrity.
A new employee should be able to come in and read a quality manual and standard operating procedure and produce equivalent data to any laboratory analyst doing the same job. With difficult or challenging operating procedures it becomes even more important that training and documentation are adhered to.
PerkinElmer’s free webinar will dive into these points and others in more detail. To learn more and sign up, click here.
Last week, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) published a bulletin, outlining new temporary testing requirements effective immediately until May 30th of next year. The changes to the rules come in the wake of product shortages, higher prices and even some claims of cultivators reverting back to the black market to stay afloat.
According to the bulletin, these temporary regulations are meant to still protect public health and safety, but are “aimed at lowering the testing burden for producers and processors based on concerns and input from the marijuana industry.” The temporary rules, applying to both medical and retail products, are a Band-Aid fix while the OHA works on a permanent solution to the testing backlog.
Here are some key takeaways from the rule changes:
THC and CBD amounts on the label must be the value calculated by a laboratory, plus or minus 5%.
A harvest lot can include more than one strain.
Cannabis harvested within a 48-hour period, using the same growing and curing processes can be included in one harvest lot.
Edibles processors can include up to 1000 units of product in a batch for testing.
The size of a process lot submitted for testing for concentrates, extracts or other non-edible products will be the maximum size for future sampling and testing.
Different batches of the same strain can be combined for testing potency.
Samples can be combined from a number of batches in a harvest lot for pesticide testing if the weight of all the batches doesn’t exceed ten pounds. This also means that if that combined sample fails a pesticide test, all of the batches fail the test and need to be disposed.
Butanol, Propanol and Ethanol are no longer on the solvent list.
The maximum concentration limit for THC and CBD testing can have up to a 5% variance.
Process validation is replaced by one control study.
After OHA has certified a control study, it is valid for a year unless there is an SOP or ingredient change.
During the control study, sample increments are tested separately for homogeneity across batches, but when the control study is certified, sample increments can be combined.
Failing a test
Test reports must clearly show if a test fails or passes.
Producers can request a reanalysis after a failed test no later than a week after receiving failed test results and that reanalysis must happen within 30 days.
The office of Gov. Kate Brown along with the OHA, Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) issued a letter in late November, serving as a reminder of the regulations regarding pesticide use and testing. It says in bold that it is illegal to use any pesticide not on the ODA’s cannabis and pesticide guide list. The letter states that failed pesticide tests are referred to ODA for investigation, which means producers that fail those tests could face punitive measures such as fines.
The letter also clarifies a major part of the pesticide rules involving the action level, or the measured amount of pesticides in a product that the OHA deems potentially dangerous. “Despite cannabis producers receiving test results below OHA pesticide action levels for cannabis (set in OHA rule), producers may still be in violation of the Oregon Pesticide Control Act if any levels of illegal pesticides are detected.” This is crucial information for producers who might have phased out use of pesticides in the past or might have began operations in a facility where pesticides were used previously. A laboratory detecting even a trace amount in the parts-per-billion range of banned pesticides, like Myclobutanil, would mean the producer is in violation of the Pesticide Control Act and could face thousands of dollars in fines. The approved pesticides on the list are generally intended for food products, exempt from a tolerance and are considered low risk.
As regulators work to accredit more laboratories and flesh out issues with the industry, Oregon’s cannabis market enters a period of marked uncertainty.
Last week, news of problems facing Oregon’s cannabis laboratory accreditation program surfaced, leading some to speculate about possible delays for the recreational cannabis market. According to The Register-Guard, ORELAP administrator Gary Ward believed the program was “on the precipice of collapse.”
According to Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP) was anticipating over 30 cannabis laboratories applying for accreditation and they doubled their staff from two to four to prepare for the uptick in applications.
In June, the agency had zero labs applying for accreditation but within two months, 37 labs applied. However, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) just provided three additional staff members on Monday to help with the application process, says Modie.
Some believe the issues could mean the state may not have enough accredited labs by October 1st, when the recreational cannabis market is expected to go into full swing. “It is difficult to say exactly how many labs we can accredit by October 1,” says Modie. “We have seven labs today which would bring it to nine labs waiting for assessment, but our goal is to get as many labs assessed and hopefully accredited as soon as possible.”
With the additional staff members, Modie is hopeful this will jumpstart the program. “We really appreciate our collaboration with the DEQ and look forward to boosting our capacity a bit to help us get through this busy time,” says Modie.
Part of the reason some laboratories might have trouble meeting prerequisites is simply because the requirements are very strict. “The process involves submitting a quality manual, standard operating procedures, method validation, submitting proficiency testing data and finally undergoing an ORELAP assessment by our staff, so it is a very rigorous process,” says Modie. “This speaks to our concern for making sure they have the right systems in place so public health is protected.” Modie said there were at least three labs that did not pass the assessment.
Bethany Sherman, chief executive officer of OG Analytical, believes the hardest part of the process involves getting accredited for testing pesticides. OG Analytical, based in Eugene, Oregon, has already received their accreditation, one of the first to do so. “The pesticide testing requires our most expensive instrumentation and the sample preparation for testing pesticides is the most time consuming,” says Sherman. “Not only does it require very specific instrumentation, it also requires a real know-how and expertise to ensure we are cleaning samples appropriately, minimizing background noise and looking at the pesticides in trace quantities.” According to Sherman, laboratories are also left to their own devices to develop methodologies specifically for the cannabis matrix, adding to the difficulties.
Rodger Voelker, Ph.D., lab director at OG Analytical, seems confident that the state will be able to handle it. “It is a relief they were able to get some resources from the DEQ and I think the state will not allow a program with this kind of importance to fall apart,” says Voelker. He believes after this initial phase of putting the program in place, the workload will go down. “It is easier to maintain a program than it is to implement,“ adds Voelker. In his eyes, it is crucial for the program to require rigorous science. “People are forced to reconcile that there is a tremendous amount of controls to be considered to produce legally defensible data and I think it is great that the requirements are so strict.”
The OHA’s job is to essentially safeguard public health and they do not want to leave any stone unturned when it comes to potential contamination, says Modie. “This is not just about getting as many labs accredited as possible, this is about protecting public health.”
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recently implemented a set of temporary rules effective through June 28th of this year with the goal to establish a set of regulations for cannabis testing by October 1st. An investigation by The Oregonian highlighted some of the previous problems with cannabis testing in the state.
The most impactful rule changes include The NELAC Institute (TNI) mandatory standards for laboratories that the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP) will use to accredit labs. Initial rules in the Oregon medical cannabis program, HB 3460 from 2013, did not specify accreditation rules for cannabis testing.
ORELAP currently performs accreditation for lab testing under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The new cannabis testing rules will give ORELAP the authority to accredit and regulate cannabis labs in the state of Oregon.
Rodger Voelker, Ph.D., laboratory director of OG Analytical in Eugene, OR, believes these rules are monumental in establishing legitimacy in cannabis testing. “These new rules have major repercussions mainly because they require not only getting accreditation, but maintaining it with very strict requirements,” says Voelker. “That also includes procedural guidelines that very carefully outline the quality of laboratory practices and establishes a set of criteria for method validation.”
Voelker notes that two of the biggest changes are in quality control and data management. “The documentation they require is very thorough and strict with the idea that any aspect of an analysis can be replicated,” adds Voelker. “This is a real win for us in my opinion because now we have an agency that can issue the appropriate credentials as well as have the authority to make punitive measures.”
The timeline for implementation with temporary rules allows state regulators to work with laboratories to perform accreditation and bring laboratories up to speed. According to Shannon Swantek, ORELAP compliance specialist, products that dispensaries sell in medical and recreational markets are required to be tested under the new rules and in the analyte lists by an ORELAP accredited laboratory, starting on October 1st.
Swantek’s job is to accredit cannabis labs to the TNI standards, which is essentially very similar to ISO 17025, just with more prescriptive measures and the ability to pair with state agencies to enforce rules after accreditation. “The timeline for accreditation is dependent on how ready the lab is and how compliant they are to the TNI standard already,” says Swantek. “The culture had gotten so fraudulent that the legislature felt Oregon needed some serious, more strict rules in place.”
One of the biggest changes coming to Oregon cannabis testing is the new sampling requirement. “An accredited laboratory employee must take the sample because sampling is where a lack of training or outright fraud is skewing results, which occurs when a grower brings in a sample not representative of the batch,” adds Swantek. Sample preparation methods will also be required to be more robust to meet the action limits of pesticide testing in particular, helping to identify lower levels like parts-per-billion, according to Swantek.
Reports were also lacking key information in the past. The new rules will require more information such as the procedure used, the analyst carrying it out, dilution factors and any other information you need to theoretically reproduce the result. This will result in more accurate labels on products.
Many are concerned that the new lab testing requirements will raise the price of testing too much. In reality, those current prices are not realistic for accurate data, which points to the rampant fraud that ORELAP is trying to eradicate. “The old rules were written in such an ambiguous way that the prices were set by laboratories without a proper quality program or even without proper instrumentation,” says Swantek.
The accreditation process will require particularly robust quality control systems in labs. “Accreditation to the TNI Standard means that lab quality systems will require a documentation system, training procedures, record keeping, personnel requirements, organization details, proof of no conflicts of interest and corrective actions if noncompliant,” adds Swantek. “We single out each method or procedure, look at their raw data and proficiency testing and determine if they are meeting the technical requirements.”
According to Voelker, other industries have learned to adjust their costs with stringent lab testing rules. “I get that no one wants to pay more for lab testing, but the reality is that joining the world of commodities comes with additional costs to ensure consumer safety,” says Voelker. These rule changes will undoubtedly bring more consistency to Oregon’s cannabis industry with accurate lab testing and help the OHA shed more light on issues surrounding consumer safety.
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