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Quality Management Systems for Cannabis: Navigating New Jersey’s Guidelines

ByTrichome Team

May 3, 2021

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On Feb. 22, 2021, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law three bills changing the legal status of cannabis, ushering in a new era of adult-use recreational cannabis accessibility

What’s currently lacking in the state guidelines—for now—are robust regulatory frameworks for contamination, potency and more. But rest assured, they’re coming. 

If you’re launching a cannabis cultivation or processing business and want to avoid costly shutdowns, retrofitting or recalls, the time is now to establish a rock-solid quality management system (QMS). 

When properly employed, a QMS can help you avoid brand-damaging issues with quality or safety, and they can also offer opportunities for sustainable growth, bolster R&D initiatives and more. 

We’ll talk through managing your risk, scaling effectively and leveraging time-saving standard operating procedures (SOPs), all with the help of a thoughtful, effective QMS. 

What Quality Management Systems for Cannabis Look Like 

A quality management system (QMS) does just that—manages quality. By mitigating risk, standardizing practices and evaluating all external and internal processes that affect the business, the QMS documents the methods a company uses to ensure and evaluate quality at every step in their cultivation, processing, manufacturing, or packaging facility.

How do you decide where to source your material? How is product moved through your facility? How do you train and assess your employees? How do you know who touches your product, when and why? How do you validate your methods to ensure they are accurate and reproducible? How do you know when a product is cleared to be released to market for sale? How do you identify and respond to a recall?

Having detailed answers to these questions allows companies to mitigate risk and meet federal, state, and other local regulations. It also streamlines your business, establishes consistency, reduces human error, and makes onboarding new employees a breeze.

By meeting internationally established standards for your quality management system such as ISO 9001 or ISO 22000, you can set your business apart from others, and be ready to comply with federal cGMP regulations with no down time.

Your cultivation or processing facility can also leverage and employ a QMS to maintain adherence to safety protocols, avoid environmental risk factors like water seepage or airflow issues, and ensure product quality. 

Put simply, a QMS is foundational to success and growth—and while regulations for processes and contamination are lax now, don’t count on them staying that way for long. Investing in your QMS now will pay dividends down the road. 

Managing Your Risk—Before An Incident Occurs

Recalls for consumable products do more than result in costly product loss—they can damage your brand too. If you’re a new brand establishing yourself in New Jersey’s cannabis industry, it’s of the utmost importance that you avoid recalls and both the hard and soft costs associated with them. Losing consumer confidence, especially for a new brand or product, is a hard fall to recover from. 

Don’t wait until a safety or quality incident occurs to act. Experts in establishing a good, effective QMS (we know a few) can audit your operation and provide actionable steps for avoiding issues, ensuring safety and maintaining compliance. 

SOPs, Training and Your Bottom Line

Standard practices that are not documented often end up like a game of telephone: Employees trained on tasks modify them slightly, train others who do the same, and the cycle continues until your original practice is unrecognizable. By translating everything that you’re already doing into formal SOPs, you can ensure consistency over time. Paired with your document management system established in your QMS, you will be able to ensure that all of your employees are trained on the most current version of the process you have established and approved.

SOPs help you scale, be consistent and make training easier. That’s obvious. But what’s not always obvious is where to start. Especially in new markets like New Jersey, many cannabis business owners aren’t experts right out of the gate; there’s a lot to learn. 

And for many individuals accepting jobs in new or expanded cultivation or processing facilities, there’s a strong likelihood it’s their first cannabis job, or could even be their first manufacturing job. In the world of consumables, it’s incredibly important to ensure that what comes out of your company’s doors is safe and compliant. 

Human error, like forgetting to clean equipment between batches or leaving cardboard in the corner of a grow room, can result in catastrophic contamination or the proliferation of harmful molds and bacterias. Strong SOPs and documentation procedures formalize and standardize every aspect of your operation, helping to avoid all-too-common issues stemming from human error. 

In addition to helping avoid financial loss caused by noncompliant products, good SOPs help immensely with training, helping save money and time in the onboarding process.  

Enlisting the help of a professional, especially for individuals new to cannabis cultivation or manufacturing, can reduce headaches and remove roadblocks as your business launches or scales. We can transfer your processes from conceptual to documented standard operating procedures that will help you standardize your facility practices, more easily train your employees, and pass required regulatory inspections.

More than Risk Management: How QMS and Testing Protocols Help With Scaling and R&D

We’ve covered risk management and establishing good employee habits and training. But another important benefit of a cannabis QMS is that it can also help cultivators avoid pest contamination before a major issue occurs. 

Performing external audits of your facility with a trained expert will determine areas of your operation that can be improved to reduce potential sources of pest intrusion, contamination, and mold proliferation before it becomes a problem.

A QMS with regular plant material testing protocols built in can help you identify and mitigate potential contaminants and crop-destroying pests like russet mites and the dreaded hops latent viroid

And in the case of plant pathogens infecting some of your crop, a QMS can help ensure there’s no cross-contamination of pathogens between grow rooms, trim rooms and other areas of the facility.  

Beyond avoiding pathogenic contamination issues, a QMS can also incorporate regular plant sexing and genetic tests that can help you with cross-breeding efforts and product R&D. A more nuanced understanding of your plant’s genetic makeup can help you select the best plants and adjust your cultivation plan accordingly. 

Analyzing plants throughout the grow cycle with cannabinoid potency testing can help you track the performance of various cultivars and alert you to any necessary adjustments in fertigation, UV exposure or similar to optimize yields and harvest timing. Terpene profiling can also help you understand the character and best potential uses of your crop, whether it’s premium flower or extraction, as different concentrations of terpenes and cannabinoids yield different effects. 

Consumer Safety, Business Longevity

A good QMS and expert help not only boost the fiscal health of your business; they also help ensure consumer safety. 

With regulations coming—especially in the case of federal cannabis legalization—coupled with the need to further legitimize cannabis as a safe and mainstream plant therapy, it’s essential that cultivators and processors do whatever’s necessary to protect their brands and provide a safe product. 

Beyond that, you’ll save your new or expanded operation a headache when regulations for microbial testing and similar requirements do come down the line. And rest assured, they will.