Tag Archives: QMS

Integrating a Culture of Quality Into the Cannabis Industry

By David Vaillencourt
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The culture of the cannabis industry is filled with passion that many envy, and for valid reasons. The roots of the cannabis plant go back thousands of years. As of this writing, there are no documented human deaths that were caused by a phytocannabinoid overdose. However, it is not all rainbows and unicorns.

Before breaking ground, fundraising, proper facility design, competitive application and permitting requirements are just the start. Once operating, businesses struggle to stay current with regulations that continue to evolve. Cannabis cultivators struggle to scale while mitigating pest infestations, which is a part of life in the conventional agricultural industry. A lack of consistent products frustrates consumers, while regulators and policy makers continue to struggle on the best way to regulate a commodity that has seemingly endless demand. The reality is dizzying!

However, amidst all of the challenges and opportunities, a continually overlooked tool stands out: a Quality Management System (QMS). Merriam-Webster defines a system as “an organized set of doctrines, ideas, or principles usually intended to explain the arrangement or working of a systematic whole.”

A QMS documents processes, procedures and responsibilities that ultimately direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements as well as continually improve its effectiveness and efficiency. In other words – it steers innovation through the collection of data while ensuring products are safe for the consumer. For further reading, the American Society for Quality (ASQ), now over 70 years old, is an excellent resource and provider of resources and formal training programs that are recognized and revered around the world.

Step 1: Define your stakeholder requirements

This all starts with knowing your stakeholder (e.g., customer, regulatory body) requirements. For simplicity’s sake, let’s start with your customer; at a fundamental level, they expect safe, consistent and reliable products that impart a certain experience.

How does that translate into specifications? Let’s look at them one at a time.

What does “safe” mean? For an edible, safe means the product is free of physical, chemical and microbial hazards. Knowing what potential impurities could be in your product requires understanding your raw materials (inputs) and the manufacturing process. To take a deeper dive, some of the aspects of safety and quality, product specifications and testing considerations are discussed in this recent Cannabis Industry Journal article by Dr. Roggen and Mr. Skrinskas here.

An example of a compliant label in Oregon

What does “consistent” mean? This builds off and complements the safety profile. It could mean a consistent fill level, an acceptable range of cannabinoid concentration, and so on. For example, in the US Pharmacopeia’s peer-reviewed article about quality attributes of cannabis inflorescence (commonly known as flower or bud), they recommend 20% as the acceptable variance in cannabinoid content. For a product labeled as having 25% THC, the product will actually test to between 20% and 30%. This may be surprising, and discomforting for some, but the reality is that products on the market consistently fail to meet label claims.

What does “reliable” mean? That could mean that you always have inventory of certain products on the shelves at your dispensary. Defining “always” as a SMART goal – perhaps it means that you will have your top 3 products in stock at least 90% of the time. Customers need to feel like they can rely on your business to provide them with the products they want. Take the time to capture the data on what your customers want and work to satisfy their needs and you’ll watch your business really accelerate.

Step 2: Build your processes to meet these expectations

This is where your written standard operating procedures (SOPs), forms and records come into play. Your SOPs serve to memorialize your operations for consistency. Most SOPs in the cannabis industry are not written by the actual operators of a process. Rather, they are written by the legal and compliance team without review by the operators to confirm that what they are stating reflects operational reality. The audience needs to be the operators. Without effective SOPs that are utilized by your employees, your business will struggle to meet the established specifications. Cannabis businesses in Colorado, the oldest regulated adult-use cannabis market in the United States, continue to see 1 in 8 of their products fail final product testing! Cannabis businesses that understand their processes, document them in SOPs and have records to prove they follow their SOPs (see Step 3) are able to reduce errors that ultimately lead to costly rework and product failures.

Consistency in quality standards requires meticulous SOPs

Step 3: Monitor and improve

You have your requirements, you have your process, but how do you know that they are being adhered to? By the time you have results from a third-party lab, it’s too late. Look internally. Records and logs that show preventive maintenance was performed, room and canopy temperature and humidity checks, inventory reports, production records, extraction equipment report and employee training records shouldn’t be filled out only to be filed away. These records are data, which is your most valuable tool. Unfortunately, records are one of the most overlooked assets in today’s cannabis business. A team independent from operations (typically a Quality Unit) should be regularly reviewing these for inconsistencies and trends that can alert you to catastrophic failures before they occur.

Initially, the additional expenditure and learning curve may make this seem like an added burden, but keep in mind that succeeding in today’s cannabis industry requires long-term customer retention. By biting off one piece at a time, you can slowly implement a QMS that will improve your business, increase customer satisfaction, and ensure your brand is a staple for years to come. Remember, quality and compliance is a journey, not a “set it and forget it” situation.

The definition of a Quality Management System includes ‘continuous improvement’. Look forward to a future article which will discuss the importance of tools like a CAPA Program – Corrective Action Preventive Action (which all cannabis license holders in Colorado are required to have in place as of January 1, 2021) and how they complete your QMS, keeping you compliant and mitigating your business risks!

Moving Towards Greater Competency in Cannabis Testing

By Ravi Kanipayor
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While legalization of recreational cannabis remains in a fluid state in the United States, the medical application of cannabis is gaining popularity. As such, the  diversification of  pharmaceutical and edible cannabis products will inevitably lead to increased third party testing, in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates. Laboratories entering into cannabis testing, in addition to knowing the respective state mandates for testing procedures, should be aligned with Federal regulations in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

In 2010, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA)1 established a cannabis committee with the primary objective of addressing issues related to the practices and safe use of legally-marketed cannabis and cannabis-related products. The committee issued a set of recommendations, outlining best practices for the cultivation, processing, testing and distribution of cannabis and cannabis products. The recommendations for laboratory operations sets some basic principles for those performing analysis of cannabis products. These principles, complementary to existing good laboratory practices and international standards, focus on the personnel, security, sample handling/disposal, data management and test reporting unique to laboratories analyzing cannabis samples.

As local and federal regulations continue to dictate medical and recreational cannabis use, many will venture into the business of laboratory testing to meet the demands of this industry. Thus, it is not surprising that cannabis producers, distributors and dispensaries will need competent testing facilities to provide reliable and accurate results. In addition, our understanding of cannabis from an analytical science perspective will derive from test reports received from these laboratories. Incorrect or falsified results can be costly to their business and can even lead to lawsuits when dealing with consumer products. Examples of fines and/or suspensions related to incorrect/false reporting of results have already gained coverage in news media. This sets up the need for the cannabis industry to establish standardized protocols for laboratory competency.

The international standard, ISO 17025 – ‘General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories’ – plays an important role in providing standard protocols to distinguish labs with proven quality, reliability and competency. The industry needs to rely not only on the initial accreditation received, but also on the ongoing assessment of the labs to ensure continuous competency.

Receiving accreditation involves an assessment by an International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) recognized accrediting body, which ensures that laboratories have the competency, resources, personnel and have successfully implemented a sound quality management system that complies with the international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2017. This ISO standard is voluntary, but recognized and adopted globally by many industries for lab services. Cannabis companies can ensure that the test services they receive from accredited laboratories will meet the requirements of the industry, as well as the state and federal regulatory agencies. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an independent, non-governmental organization with over 160 memberships of national standards bodies, and all with a unified focus on developing world-class standards for services, systems, products, testing to ensure quality, safety, efficiency and economic benefits.

ILAC is a non-profit organization made up of accreditation bodies (ABs) from various global economies. The member bodies that are signatories to the ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (ILAC MRA) have been peer evaluated to demonstrate their competence. The ILAC MRA signatories, in turn, assess testing labs against the international standard, ISO/IEC 17025 and award accreditation. Accreditation is the independent evaluation of conformity assessment in accordance with the standard and related government regulations to ensure the lab carry out specific activities (called the ‘Scope’) impartially and competently. Through this process, cannabis industry stakeholders and end users can have confidence in the test results they receive from the labs.

Understanding the principles of accreditation and conformity to ISO standards is the beginning of the ISO 17025 accreditation process. Similar to other areas of testing, accreditation gives cannabis testing labs global recognition such that their practices meet the highest standards in providing continuous consistency, reliability and accuracy.

Many government agencies (state and federal) in the US and around the world are mandating cannabis testing laboratories to seek accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025:2017, in an effort to standardize their practice and provide the industry with needed assurance. Conformance with the standard enables labs to demonstrate their competency in generating reliable results, thereby providing assurance to those who hire their services.

Testing of cannabis can be very demanding and challenging given that state and federal regulations require that the performance and quality of the testing activities must provide consistent, reliable and accurate results. Hence, labs deciding to set up cannabis testing will have to take extra care in setting up a laboratory facility, acquiring all necessary and appropriate testing equipment, hiring qualified and experience staff and developing and implementing test methods to ensure the process, sample throughput, data integrity and generated output are continuously reliable, accurate and meet the need of the clients and requirements of the regulatory bodies. This demands the lab to establish and implement very sound quality assurance program, good laboratory practices and a quality management system (QMS).

Some expected challenges are:

  1. Standardization of test methods and protocols
    1. Since there is no federal guidance in standardization of test methods and protocols for cannabis testing in US, it is challenging for laboratories to research and validate other similar, established methods and gain approval from the local and state authorities.
  2. Facility
    1. Cannabis testing activities must be physically isolated from other testing activities for those labs conducting business in other areas of testing such as environment, food, mining, etc.
    2. Microbiological testing requires additional physical isolation within the testing facility, maintaining sterility of the environment, test area and test equipment.
  3. Equipment
    1. The test equipment such as Chromatographs (GC/LC), Spectrometers (ICP-MS, ICP-OES, UV-Vis), and other essential analytical instruments must meet the specifications required to detect and quantify and statistically justify the test parameters at the stipulated concentration levels. That means the limit of detection and limit of quantitation of each parameter must be well below the regulatory limits and the results are statistically sound.
    2. Calibration, maintenance and operation of analytical equipment must be appropriate to produce results traceable to international standards such as International System of Units and National Institute of Standards and Technology (SI and NIST).
  4. Staff
    1. The qualification and experience of the staff should ensure standard test methods are implemented and verified to meet the specifications.
    2. They should have a sound understanding of the QA/QC protocols and effective implementation of a quality management system which conforms to ISO/IEC 17025:2017 standard.
    3. Staff should be properly trained in all standard operating procedures (SOPs) and receiving schedule re-training as needed. Training should be accurately documented.
  5. QMS
    1. The QMS should not only meet the requirements of ISO 17025, but also be appropriate to the scope of the laboratory activities. Such a system must be planned, implemented, verified and continuously improved to ensure effectiveness.

Finally, stakeholders should seek expert advice in establishing a cannabis testing lab prior to initiating the accreditation. This can be achieved through a cyclic PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT process. Labs that are properly established can attain the accreditation process in as little as 3-5 months. An initial ‘Gap Analysis’ can be extremely helpful in this matter.

IAS, an ILAC MRA signatory and international accrediting body based in California is one such organization that provides training programs for those interested in attaining accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025:2017. It is a nonprofit, public-benefit corporation that has been providing accreditation services since 1975. IAS accredits a wide range of companies and organizations including governmental entities, commercial businesses, and professional associations worldwide. IAS accreditation programs are based on recognized national and international standards that ensure domestic and/or global acceptance of its accreditations.2


References

  1. American Herbal Products Association , 8630 Fenton Street, Suite 918 , Silver Spring, MD 20910 , ahpa.org.
  2. International Accreditation Services, iasonline.org.

Aphria, Inc. Implements Quality Management Systems

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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According to a press release published today, Aphria Inc. has implemented Rootstock Software’s cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions and ComplianceQuest’s Enterprise Quality Management System (EQMS). Aphria, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world, trades on both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange.

Rootstock’s cloud ERP software includes things like order processing, production management, supply chain management, lot and serial number trackability and traceability, compliance reporting, costing and financial management. ComplianceQuest’s EQMS software provides support for GMP compliance and can help improve efficiencies in operations. The EQMS focuses on quality and risk management across Aphria’s business platforms, from sourcing to manufacturing to supply chain management.

Aphria is using the entire EQMS platform, which includes software to handle documents, training, changes, inspections, nonconformance, corrective actions (CAPA) and customer complaints which integrates to Rootstock’s ERP. According to the press release, the company is currently working to roll-out audit, equipment, incident and supplier management functions and will be fully live with the entire quality system in the next few months.

According to Tim Purdie, chief information officer & chief information security officer of Aphria Inc., both platforms delivered on their implementation. “Grounded in the scalability of the force.com platform, CQ transformed our quality management operating capabilities overnight and we are delighted at the fully integrated partnership result,” says Purdie. “We now have fully digital real-time informatics and ability to implement change in a highly transparent manner to meet the demands of our high growth business.”

Adding that Rootstock ERP will help facilitate their company’s production, inventory and supply chain management, Purdie says both platforms will enable Aphria to be increasingly responsive to market needs. “Aphria is setting the standard as a worldwide leader in the cannabis industry through a diversified approach to innovation, corporate citizenship, strategic partnerships and global expansion,” Purdie says. “With these system implementations, we’re now technologically equipped to take our competitive advantage to new levels of market leadership.”

Beleave Achieves ISO 9001 Certification

By Aaron G. Biros
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According to a press release, Beleave Inc. announced recently that their subsidiary, Beleave Kannabis Corporation, received the ISO 9001:2015 certification. The facility that received the certification, based in Hamilton, Ontario, was certified “for the research, development, and production of cannabis products for medicinal and recreational purposes,” reads the press release.

Beleave is a vertically-integrated cannabis business headquartered in Oakville, Ontario that cultivates cannabis as well as producing oils and extracts. The company operates in both medical and recreational sectors of the market. They have been working on developing cannabis food and beverage products, such as infused powders and sugars, expecting that the recreational cannabis market in Canada will soon open its doors to infused products in 2019.

ISO 9001:2015 is an international standard that stipulates requirements for a quality management system (QMS), showing that a facility can provide products that meet customer and regulatory requirements. ISO 9001:2015 is the most up-to-date version for the standard, which can help show a company’s commitment to quality, efficiency and consistency. The 2015 version uses criteria with an emphasis on risk-based thinking to aid in the application of the process approach, improved applicability for services and increased leadership requirements.

“We continue to develop international partnerships and plan to enter global markets”The company’s facility was certified by Bureau Veritas Certification Holding SAS in late January of 2019. According to Roger Ferreira, chief science officer at Beleave, the process of certification was no easy undertaking. “After many months of hard work and preparation, we are extremely proud to be one of the few licensed producers of cannabis to have received ISO 9001:2015 accreditation,” says Ferreira. “This certification reflects Beleave’s ongoing commitment to quality across key elements of our business, which includes research, innovation, and production of cannabis products.”

Going beyond Canada, Ferreira says they are building the foundation of a company preparing to expand internationally. “Further, this internationally recognized certification for our quality management system positions us well as we continue to develop international partnerships and plan to enter global markets,” says Ferreira. Through their ownership in Procannmed S.A.S., they are licensed to cultivate and produce medical cannabis products out of Colombia, with the goal to export products to the Latin American market. They have also partnered with Canymed GmbH, based in Germany, to further explore opportunities in the European medical cannabis market.