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By Heather Despres and Debbie Churgai for Terpenes and Testing Magazine
Every day, we are bombarded with advertisements from cannabis companies declaring they provide the highest quality products and services, but who, if anyone, outside the company is determining these factors? This is where third-party certification programs can offer some validity to what a company is declaring. Third-party certification programs are able to provide an unbiased examination of the quality of a company’s cannabis products and services. This can be incredibly important in today’s market, where manufacturers and distributors can use advertisements for their products that often describe them as being “high quality” and “the best of the best”.
Without such safety precautions, the industry could quickly become overrun with false advertising, which would make it difficult for a consumer to receive reliable information when making a decision about their medicine. Particularly for immunocompromised patients, the safety and accuracy of the medicine they are taking is of utmost importance;however, this is true for anyone consuming cannabis.
This is why Americans for Safe Access (ASA) created the Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program. In 2013, ASA recognized that there would be a need for compliance standardization in the growing cannabis industry. While there are several certification programs now available, ASA is the only one to partner with the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), to develop standards that take into account various aspects of different regulations. The PFC program helps businesses adhere to the standards in the AHP Cannabis Monograph as well as the recommendations for regulators that were developed in cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and laboratory operations by AHPA.
PFC also incorporates standards from the International Standards Organization (ISO), Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to ensure that the program is robust enough to withstand changing regulations. These standards are designed to meet, and in most cases, exceed, the requirements of various state regulations.
While most other certification programs only apply to one aspect of the industry, the PFC program encompasses all aspects of the industry including cultivation and processing, manufacturing, distribution, and laboratory operations.
In 2016, PFC added a robust training program to help employers provide consistent training for their employees, as well as to help ensure that employees are following the company’s protocols outlined in their standard operating procedures. Staff level training is required for all employees of PFC companies, while higher level training, Verified Professional training, is recommended for management. Staff level training covers the PFC Core Cannabis Training (CCT) courses including: Cannabis as Medicine, Cannabis Business Operations, Understanding Cannabis Law, and State and Local Legal Compliance. Depending on the operation, employees would then take one or more of the following National Cannabis Standards Training (NCST) courses in cultivation and processing, manufacturing, distribution, or laboratory.
Verified Professional training includes all CCT courses and each NCST course of your choosing plus several Enrichment Courses (EC) which include: the Advanced Endocannabinoid System, Cannabis Extraction and Laboratory Safety, Pesticide Guidance and Integrated Pest Management, and Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Batch Sampling. These courses are designed to add value to the base training and expand the knowledge base of employees and employers.
Fair packaging and labeling requires that companies print truthful statements on their labels. Good agricultural practices indicate how plants may be grown in a way that is both safe and productive. Good manufacturing practices provide guidance on proper manufacturing practices to ensure products are free from contamination. Good laboratory practices help labs to develop sound scientific procedures that produce quality results. All of these systems are in place to protect patients and consumers. The PFC program has been developed with all these things in mind and is designed to be a robust program that can be utilized in any location that has approved cannabis for medical or recreational use. With the proper training and oversight, any company can be successful and become certified.