Berkeley medical marijuana dispensary certified by nonprofit advocacy group

Chris Tril, The Daily Californian

Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit cannabis-advocacy group, certified two Bay Area medical marijuana dispensaries Feb. 20 in an effort to encourage standardized cannabis quality.

The two dispensaries — Berkeley Patients Group, the largest and oldest medical marijuana dispensary in the city, and San Francisco Patient and Resource Center, a nonprofit cannabis collective — are the first in the country to be certified by ASA on standards that focus on the quality of the product as outlined by American Herbal Products Association and American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.

Both establishments were certified through the Patient Focused Certification program, a third-party and nonprofit certification process offered by ASA.

“The Patient Focused Certification program will give patients, regulators and everyone in the cannabis industry confidence that products are standardized and meet quality standards,” said Sean Luse, BPG’s chief operations officer, in an email. “These types of standards are long overdue and we’re happy to be a part of this important program.”

The certification process of dispensaries — meant to increase product assurance — includes a scheduled physical audit, documentation and staff training audit, complaint process and at least one annual surprise audit.

Afterward, PFC-certified products and businesses will exhibit the PFC seal on their promotions and packaging.

“I expect that just like consumers look for and know they can trust a Better Business Bureau or Good Housekeeping seal of approval, patients will seek out dispensaries who abide by these product safety standards,” Luse said in the email.

The auditors also need to show that the business is in line with state laws. Currently, there are pending applications for certification of dispensaries in six other states, including New Mexico, Washington and Maine.

“A few years ago, we started working with the American Herbal Products Association to create industry standards that can assure quality of these products,” said Steph Sherer, founder and executive director of ASA. “There needs to be some type of assurance that the products being sold to patients are free of contaminants.”

BPG has been met with controversy in the past. In 2012, the company received a letter from the federal government that claimed the establishment operated too close to a school. The company then moved but faced a lawsuit in May 2013, in which the federal government again claimed BPG was in violation of the same law and attempted to shut down the dispensary. The suit was later countered by the city of Berkeley.

With these certifications, some people feel like this is a step toward standardizing medical marijuana quality.

“If everybody needs to meet these basic standards — that everybody is using their cannabis, that everybody is using for proper packaging — then it creates a level playing field for those companies to then be innovative and then excel,” Sherer said.