This is the first in a series of articles designed to educate and assist both the public and private sector understand the challenges related... Certification | The Latest Cannabis Buzz (word)

This is the first in a series of articles designed to educate and assist both the public and private sector understand the challenges related to producing safe, quality consistent cannabis products, and the role third-party certification plays in that process. Future articles will cover conformity assessments, the difference between certification and accreditation, combined with tips to help navigate this complex, critically important topic.

As the cannabis industry matures, the need for patients, consumers, and regulators to be confident in the quality and safety of products being produced, as well as which businesses are producing those products, is critical. There is no better example of this than the vape crisis that has swept the United States throughout 2019.

After many years of working diligently to spread the message on the importance of quality and safety, as well as the benefits standards and certification could bring to this emerging marketplace, it warms my heart to see conversations in the cannabis industry finally turning in this direction.  Certification has become the latest buzz word. However, like most things involving cannabis, there is more to the conversation than what is currently being shared.  “Certification” is being used as a blanket description for dozens of different activities – with no two exactly alike. Not only is this creating quite a bit of confusion, it is making it almost impossible to assess the value of what is actually being offered.

According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification means a third party attestation related to products, processes, systems or persons; and is applicable to all objects of conformity assessment except for conformity assessment bodies themselves, to which accreditation is applicable. (ISO/IEC 17000, clause 5.5) In laymen terms, certification is written assurance, in the form of a certificate, provided by an independent third-party, declaring that a product, service, or system meets specific requirements.

When it comes to certification “third-party” is a critical component of the definition – but what does it mean, why is it important, and how does it differ from first and second party certification?  

First party certification means that the individual or organization providing a product or service offers their own assurance that it meets certain requirements. This type of certification is not based on any agreed upon standard, but on a company’s own practices. “This is safe, because we say it is.” A good example of first party certification in the cannabis industry is the recent launch of CannApprove for THC vape products.

Second party certification means that someone related to the individual or organization providing a product or service offers their assures that it meets specific requirements. This does not mean a personal or familial relation…think employers, instructors, consultants and associations.  Second party certification is the most pervasive type of certification currently being offered  in the cannabis industry. While an employer or an association can certainly attest to the competence of an organization, it is very possible that the assessment will be compromised by biases or lack of objectivity because of the relationship between the two organizations.

Third-party certification requires an entirely independent body to offer assurance that an individual or organization providing a product or service meets specific requirements. Third-party certification provides an objective review of safety and performance free from both the economic demands of the marketplace and internal company pressures. Certification performed by a third party protects the objectivity of the certification process and ensures the validity of the certification.  In addition to being conducted by an independent body, an important characteristic of third-party certification is that it involves an element of surveillance. Meaning, once a company is certified as compliant, it is still subject to continuing verification by the third-party of its ongoing compliance.  This means there is a very real possibility of an organization losing its certification if its actions and daily behaviors do not continually meet the requirements of certification. It is for these reasons that third-party certification, in any industry, is the gold standard, worldwide.

Third party certification offers incredible value to cannabis companies by embedding preventative steps into operational processes. The proactive nature of certification provides bottom line cost savings through the minimization of errors and waste, thus decreasing costs while improving profitability and performance. Certification dramatically increases the likelihood of producing safe, quality, consistent products and overall business success.  Organizations that recognize this and maintain third-party certification, will achieve benefits that greatly exceed any cost or effort. In the wake of the vape crisis and the continually growing problems with testing labs, pesticides, and recalls, third-party certification is what the cannabis industry desperately needs, now more than ever. 

Unfortunately, most organizations offering cannabis “certifications” today have jumped on the quality and certification bandwagon solely to drive profits, with little interest in actually protecting public health and consumer safety or assuring only quality, consistent products reach the marketplace.  Most are opportunistic ventures that do not even attempt to meet the well-established international criteria for certification.

Sadly, the likelihood of assuring only safe products reach the market or realizing any of the internal business benefits third-party certification brings by working with these types of organizations is slim to none.  Only third-party certification provides validated assurance by an independent outside body that a product, service or system conforms to specified quality, safety, and health requirements, and therefore provides the greatest value.

This is the first in a series of articles designed to educate and assist both the public and private sector understand the challenges related to producing safe, quality consistent cannabis products, and the role third-party certification plays in that process.  Future articles will cover conformity assessments, the difference between certification and accreditation, combined with tips to help navigate this complex, critically important topic.

In the interim, if you are exploring cannabis certification options, protect yourself by doing your due diligence. The questions below are a good place to start:

  • What type of certification is being offered?
  • What is the structure or business model of the certification organization?
  • What is the mission of the organization?
  • Who funded the organization?
  • What other role in the cannabis industry does the certification body have?
  • What conflicts of interest are in play?
  • What type of standards does the organization certify to?
  • Who participated in the development of the standards?
  • What outside body oversees their certification activities?
  • Who assures the validity of the certification?
  • What insurance companies recognize the certification as a means to mitigate risk and lower premiums?

Written by: Lezli Engelking | Founder | FOCUS: The Cannabis Health and Safety Organization

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