Book:Past, Present, and Future of Cannabis Laboratory Testing and Regulation in the United States/Regulation, standardization, and quality/Quality

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2.4 Quality

Water quality testing in the lab (6f16fede-a75c-4444-af64-a339dff12012).JPG

Much has already been said about regulations, standards, and any associated enforcement action. We've learned that cannabis testing labs increasingly find themselves needing to not only meet a wide array of regulations but, as the industry matures, also adhering to more rigorous, standardized test methods. Adhering to these regulations and standards helps ensure the lab's long-term viability, the safety of cannabis users, and, by extension, promotes higher quality in the lab and the products it tests.

The emphasis on quality in the cannabis testing lab will only continue to grow as the "Wild West" attitudes borne from a patchwork of somewhat ambiguous legal statuses melt away, with more thoroughly standardized test methods and, presumably, federal legalization and regulation of medical and recreational cannabis products becoming the normal. Writing for Analytical Cannabis, Peak Compliance CSO Kimberly Ross imagines a future were a federally formalized national regime of testing and oversight will push "to standardize quality control, data integrity, and data traceability criteria across state lines." By extension, she adds, labs will need to strengthen their quality control (QC) and quality assessment (QA) procedures, including an investment in more costly QC samples.[1] This stands in contrast to the current state of cannabis testing, which continues to be scandalized by a small but important subset of licensed labs conducting unscrupulous activities (discussed further, at the beginning of the next chapter) such as making deals with cultivators to fudge testing values, cherry-picking the best samples to represent a batch of product, and intentionally using sub-standard equipment and methods to increase pass rates for limit-of-detection testing.[2]

Despite a lack of federal regulation, a majority of states mandating cannabis testing have chosen to force the quality issue with testing labs, requiring them to adhere to some sort of accreditation program.[1][2][3] This typically means the lab must be accredited to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard, which means sticking to a minimum set of equipment, method, and QA requirements and conducting proficiency testing at regular intervals.[1][2][3] Of course, not all accredited labs need to be accredited for every test they perform[2], which is somewhat problematic; inevitably all labs may be required to be accredited for all methodologies they apply.

Another quality concern is a lack of state-mandated proficiency testing (PT). Conducting PT essentially means running a specific set of tests where the results get evaluated by a third party who has run the same tests against a known standard. Indeed, PT is an important component of accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025[2][3][4], but given that some states still don't require accreditation[2], the likelihood of those labs going out of their way to conduct PT seems low. Those labs that are serious about quality—whether they are accredited or not—may avail themselves to programs like The Emerald Test, which "provides cannabis and hemp testing facilities with a broad range of PTs to help meet their internal SOP, regulatory compliance, and ISO/IEC accreditation needs."[5] Such efforts towards PT should, in theory, improve cannabis product quality, reduce product liability, and improve customer confidence. Of course, as Emerald Scientific's vice president Kirsten Blake notes, PTs don't test for a lab's overall ethics (meaning lab personnel could still fudge numbers outside of PTs), but "they can at least test for a lab’s competency in providing accurate results."[4]

Finally, quality in the cannabis testing laboratory may be furthered by technology. For example, laboratory automation can be used to execute processes in a precise manner every time, both providing consistency to lab results and reducing the need for human interaction with testing, freeing personnel to conduct other activities.[1] As a lab takes on more work and seeks to be more competitive, automation may transition from a "wishlist" item to a necessary one.[1] Another example of technology having the potential to improve lab quality is found with the laboratory information management system (LIMS). Discussed in more detail in the next chapter, the LIMS is increasingly vital to managing regulated data, reporting it, and helping the cannabis testing lab maintain regulatory and accreditation compliance. The LIMS can also act "as the memory of the laboratory, a vast repository for all data generated over time," as well "as a dispatch system for lab personnel, surfacing bottlenecks and issues earlier than otherwise possible in a 'paper and whiteboard' system."[1] This in turn can contribute to the quality and efficiency of the lab.[1][6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Ross, K. (13 June 2022). "The Promising Future of Cannabis Testing Laboratories". Analytical Cannabis. Retrieved 04 August 2022. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Stewart, I.A. (9 August 2021). "Reducing Cannabis Testing and Label Failures". Insights. Wilson Elser. Retrieved 04 August 2022. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Tolu, A. (30 November 2021). "Keys to Successfully Certifying Your Cannabis or Hemp Testing Lab". Lab Manager. Retrieved 04 August 2022. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Muenz, R. (30 November 2021). "Proficiency Testing for Cannabis & Hemp Labs". Laboratory Manager. Retrieved 04 August 2022. 
  5. "The Emerald Test". Emerald Scientific. Retrieved 04 August 2022. 
  6. Steele, T. W.; Laugier, Alain; Falco, François (3 March 1999). "The impact of LIMS design and functionality on laboratory quality achievements". Accreditation and Quality Assurance 4 (3): 102–106. doi:10.1007/s007690050324. ISSN 0949-1775. 

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Citation information for this chapter

Chapter: 2. Regulation, standardization, and quality

Title: Past, Present, and Future of Cannabis Laboratory Testing and Regulation in the United States

Edition: Fourth edition

Author for citation: Shawn E. Douglas

License for content: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Publication date: August 2022