For many, the cannabis industry is an exciting new world. The days of secret, basement cultivation are behind us and we’re moving into an era of legitimate commercial businesses. Besides the obvious benefits of avoiding prosecution and participating in a legal enterprise, this migration also offers the industry a chance to share ideas and best practices to achieve a quality, consistent and safe product.
However, designing best practices around a brand-new industry can be quite an undertaking. In the recent past, it was dangerous to speak openly about best practices in cultivation, processing and distribution of cannabis. All that has changed now that the industry has stepped into the light. Those with years of experience are sharing their knowledge, offering wisdom and saving new entrants years of mistakes.
ASTM is one of the organizations that is working to develop recommendations for standards within the cannabis industry. This year, ASTM formed a D37 committee to address quality and safety in cannabis through the development of voluntary consensus standards.
For those who are unfamiliar with ASTM, it is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world. While originally started to offer standards for metals, the organization has migrated to most other industries, most recently, cannabis. Volunteer members come from all over the world and have a multitude of backgrounds from industry experts to consumers to government agents to academics. The organization develops technical documents that offer general standards. Because these standards are not mandatory (they are voluntary consensus standards), it’s critical that they be developed by all stakeholders and be relevant and appropriate to ensure adoption. And while these standards are in no way binding, jurisdictions often do adopt them as regulations, making stakeholder involvement even more critical.
The cannabis industry is particularly interesting for a few reasons. First, there currently are no best practices accepted widely regarding cultivation, processing and distribution. As well, in many cases, cannabis is a medical product, making consistency, quality and safety even more critical. There is also no federal regulations or guidelines and many states with legal programs have regulations and standards that contradict each other. However, federal regulations in the industry are inevitable and when they arrive, companies that can become compliant quickly, will survive, and those that cannot, won’t. Therefore, developing consensus standards now that can be easily adopted by regulatory bodies later gives those of us involved in the industry today much more power and a competitive advantage.
Surna has always been the expert in cultivation environments, so when we learned of the D37 committee, it was an obvious opportunity for us to get involved and share our years of expertise in the industry to help develop best practices. Our own Marc Nathan, who currently serves as our engineering manager, attended the first ever committee meeting to begin the process.
The meeting took place over a day and a half in early June in Toronto, Canada. Over 100 attendees participated from a myriad of backgrounds. Engineers, cultivators, doctors, nurses, hardware providers, manufacturers, patients, chemists, lab technicians, and scientists attended to give their thoughts and participate. The committee identified 7 subcommittees, or areas of focus, during the meeting. Those 7 were Indoor and Outdoor Horticulture and Agriculture, Quality Management Systems, Laboratory, Processing and Handling, Security and Transportation, Personnel Training, Assessment and Credentialing and Terminology.
Once subcommittees were identified, the group went about determining the scope -- or specifically what the team is developing standards for -- of each area of focus. This took place through an open debate where participants were given the opportunity to give their thoughts and a consensus was reached. From there, each subcommittee then identified technical groups to dive into 3-4 topics in each area of focus. Surna is now a team member of three technical groups – reviewing current standards, environmental considerations, and terminology.
Now that the meeting has ended, the real hard work begins. Marc will be leading the group focused on environmental considerations as well as working with other participants in the technical groups he’s involved with. The team Marc is leading has already begun their work by identifying the areas within “environmental conditions” that are most critical; they will be focusing on odor control, noise, bio contaminants and environmental control (temperature, humidity, etc.). This is an obvious area for Surna to be involved because of our deep understanding of the environments needed to cultivate healthy and high yielding cannabis plants. The next step will be to research existing regulations and best practices in similar industries to inform standard creation. Fortunately, Marc is already familiar with this process as he led Surna’s effort to design an odor control plan that would meet Denver’s vague, yet strict, requirements earlier this year.
The next step for Marc and all the technical groups that came out of the D37 meeting is to reunite in January in New Orleans. This gives technical groups six months to develop standards which will then be presented to subcommittees and committees, discussed and, eventually, adopted. The goal of everyone involved in this process is to come to a consensus that considers all stakeholders, resulting in guidelines for future businesses and ensuring consistent, safe and quality products.
Developing standards for a brand-new industry is a large, but exciting, undertaking. It is rare that stakeholders get to help guide the development of their entire industry with so much influence. As true cannabis cultivation environment experts, we’re excited to share our years of knowledge to develop guidelines and help the industry make the transition from basement to boardroom.