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Cannabis Testing Labs: Getting the ISO Edge

by Mike May
Published: Jun 01, 2017   
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Around the world, ISO—the International Organization for Standardization—is synonymous with standards, and that’s just what the cannabis industry needs. In discussing cannabis testing in the United States, Alec Garcia, managing member  at 374 Labs says, “Depending on the state, you see everything from full-blown analytical labs to some guy in a garage with something he bought off eBay and providing data that may not be scientifically valid.”

In analytical labs, ISO is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval. It means that someone with authority endorses what a lab is doing and, how it does it. Although ISO has published 21,613 International Standards, the most common one sought by cannabis analytical labs is ISO/IEC 17025:2005. According to ISO, this standard “specifies the general requirements for the competence to carry out tests and/or calibrations, including sampling.”

Getting ISO accreditated

According to Adam Gouker, General Manager of Accreditation Services at A2LA, it takes 4–6 months to go from receipt of a completed application to issuing the final accreditation paperwork, “depending on (the) readiness of an organization.”

A2LA offers courses to prepare for the ISO process and to maintain competence in the accreditation requirements. “At A2LA,” Gouker explains, “we provide the organization seeking accreditation a direct point of contact in our office to assist them with any questions or administrative tasks associated with the process.”

In brief, the steps to ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation are: complete and submit the application, undergo an assessment, correct any processes as needed and receive the accreditation. “It’s not complicated in the sense that you need a PhD individual to get it done,” Garcia says, “but the complication is in the ground work that goes into it—saying what you do, and doing what you say.” That is, a lab must show that it has an analytical process in place that is documented—with a quality manual and standard operating procedures, for example—and that the process is being followed and tracked.

Keeping your ISO accreditation

Getting the ISO accreditation is the first part, and the second is keeping it. In short, that requires a visit from an assessor after the first year, and a renewal of the accreditation at the end of the second year.

What happens after that depends on the accreditation body. “From that point onward with A2LA, renewal assessments occur on-site every two years with an annual review at the mid-point in the cycle,” Gouker explains, “but current requirements mandate that the accreditation body must be on-site at least every two years to conduct an assessment—surveillance or reassessment.”

Many aspects of maintaining the accreditation involve keeping up with paperwork and processes. “Along the way, between site visits, a company should do maintenance reviews and internal audits, such as ensuring that tests are done accurately,” Garcia says.

The benefits of ISO accreditation

When asked about the benefits of cannabis labs getting ISO accreditation, Gouker says, “It confirms that the testing lab is competent to carry out the task—chemical or biological testing—and that impacts the safety and health of the end users.” He adds, “It gives end users confidence in the results from testing.”

Building such customer confidence plays a big role in a growing industry, like cannabis products. “In cannabis,” says Gouker, “lots of products on the market have not been tested, which means that you can’t ensure the quality and safety of those products.”

As this industry matures, companies and customers will expect accreditation from analytical labs. ISO is one great way to get that.


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