From Seed to Sale: 7 Best Cannabis Quality Control Practices

Kenny Hall
February 28, 2024

As the US cannabis market continues to expand, more and more states are green lighting legislation to allow adults to use cannabis either medicinally or recreationally. However, this piecemeal approach has led to serious confusion surrounding regulations in the market. With 38 states and territories each independently regulating cannabis, working out the best cannabis quality control practices for your business can be difficult.

What is Cannabis Quality Control?

In short, cannabis quality control is no different than any other industry. When consumers purchase a product, they have the right to know that what they are getting is exactly as described on the label. Every industry from consumer electronics to prescription medicine has to comply with quality control standards for whatever market they’re selling in.

For cannabis, however, this is doubly complex. Since cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, there is no unifying quality standard. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates both prescription and over-the-counter medications. At the same time, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees much of the crops that we consume.

Since neither of these entities is legally permitted to oversee cannabis, each state has had to enact its own regulations which can vary wildly from one state to the next.

A supervisor is teaching two other staff members why cannabis quality control is important.

Why Cannabis Quality Control Matters

In the constantly evolving environment surrounding legal cannabis sales in the United States, ensuring quality control is paramount as it overlaps with consumer safety, regulatory compliance, and industry integrity. 

Consumer Safety

Quality control isn’t just an industry buzzword, it’s an assurance to your customers of safety and reliability. When purchasing your products, whether for medicinal or recreational use, your customers deserve confidence in the quality and compliance with regulations. For many users, cannabis is more than just a recreational activity. Medicinal users need to know that the product they’re buying is the one that best suits their needs.

Regulatory Compliance

Every industry has red tape and oversight that need to be addressed. For products like cannabis (as well as alcohol, tobacco, or even gambling), this compliance is especially important. Cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, so complying with all local laws and regulations is simply a matter of survival for any business owner.

Industry Integrity

The cannabis industry has come a long way in terms of public perception in the last 20 years. Despite widespread approval of recreational and medicinal cannabis use across the nation, there is still a lingering stigma in many areas. Only by ensuring that everything is above board, safe, and transparent can we hope to push the cannabis industry further into the mainstream.

Cannabis Quality Control vs. Cannabis Quality Assurance: What’s the Difference?

Quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) are intimately connected, but not quite the same. For starters, QA is proactive meaning that it is more focused on the manufacturing process. QA is all about avoiding defects and ensuring the highest possible quality. Things like using organic nutrients, proper plant maintenance, and a clean growing area are all related to quality assurance.

Quality control, on the other hand, is reactive. This is done at the end of the job during the inspection phase. Once something has reached the QC phase, it’s typically too late to make any changes and the final product is either up to snuff or is rejected.

Proper QA will make the QC phase easier and limit rejected products by ensuring that everything is done properly the first time.

7 Best Cannabis Quality Control Practices

1. Research Your State’s Cannabis Testing Regulations

The most important thing you can do is become intimately familiar with what tests your state requires. California, for example, requires that cannabis manufacturers test for potency, pesticides, residual solvents, terpenes, mycotoxins, heavy metals, and microbiological contaminants. Compare this to Colorado which only requires tests for potency as well as screening for solvents and mold.

2. Determine Quality Control Standards

Now that you know what tests you need to do, you need to set your own internal quality control standards. For example, most states require that potency testing be performed, but no state requires a minimum THC content. If that is something that matters to you and your consumers, then you will need to set that standard yourself.

Additionally, things like the use of organic nutrients and soils aren’t required, but many customers like knowing that their product is grown organically. Setting reasonable QC standards can be tricky, but once you’ve committed to them, following through is a must.

A cannabis cultivator is examining a sample, following the quality control standards of her company.

3. Review Existing Standard Operating Procedures

The landscape of cannabis cultivation is constantly evolving and it’s never a bad time to review your practices. Just because it has always worked well enough doesn’t mean that there aren’t better options. Cannabis cultivation technologies have come a long way in the last few years and a small investment in upgrading can pay off massively down the road.

4. Develop New Standard Operating Procedures if Necessary

If what you’re doing isn’t working, then it’s time to try something else. If you’ve determined that your products just aren’t measuring up to your standards, don’t lower your standards. Consumers tend to notice and it can lead to resentment. Instead, focus on how you can evolve your procedures to best mitigate any shortcomings.

5. Work With Experienced and Trusted Labs

At the end of the day, you are the only one responsible for your business and your products. Setting—and keeping—high standards is your job as a business owner. However, as a business owner, you’ve probably already got your hands full with day-to-day operations, and handling QC yourself simply might not be an option. Luckily, there is no shortage of qualified and experienced labs out there that specialize in cannabis testing.

These labs have access to knowledge and equipment that you likely don’t. Letting them do the science for you will save you a headache while also providing you with peace of mind that the tests have all been handled properly.

6. Implement a Cannabis Quality Control Plan

Quality control should be embedded directly into every step of your production. While every business is unique and there’s no single “best practice” there are several tips that can apply to any business.

  • Evaluate Your Compliance Process: Even the most efficient businesses can benefit from optimizing QC processes to align with compliance standards.
  • Consider Lessons From Other Industries: Look at what food and drug manufacturers are doing and try to learn from them.
  • Break Down Every Part of Your Process: Document everything meticulously and look for precise ways to scale your operation without sacrificing quality.
  • Train Your Employees: Prioritize employee education on evolving compliance and QC standards through annual training sessions covering safety and product handling best practices.
A supervisor is implementing new cannabis quality control practices by training his staff.

7. Conduct Regular Audits and Adjust Plan as Needed

Quality control starts on day one. Don’t wait until your products are finished to evaluate what is and isn’t working. By running regular audits and making adjustments as needed, you can prevent any single problem from getting out of control. 

Rolling it Up

Setting up and following through on the best cannabis quality control practices is an overlooked but vital part of any successful cannabis business. Knowing what these standards are and how best to reach them can be challenging. However, by doing your research and creating a solid quality control plan, you can take the necessary steps to cultivating top-tier cannabis that your customers will love. 

Being a cannabis business owner can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be with KayaPush. Our cloud-based cannabis-specific software integrates payroll, HR, scheduling, and time tracking all in one place. Reach out today to book a free demo and explore the possibilities of strain free HR. 

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February 2024


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