Standardizing the Cannabis Industry: A Look at ASTM International’s Process for Writing Standards
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Standardizing the Cannabis Industry: A Look at ASTM International’s Process for Writing Standards

Ed Nodland, author of one of the group’s latest standards on auditing, shares insight into how the standards are written and how they are helping to advance the industry.

February 17, 2020

ASTM International has been around for more than 100 years and has released more than 12,000 global standards for a wide range of industries, and now, the organization has established D37, a committee on cannabis.

“There was a push to try to standardize [cannabis] because in the U.S., it’s not legal federally, so every state is off doing their own thing, and there are a lot of people who recognized [that] we need to have an organization that’s going to put these standards together,” Ed Nodland, an ASTM International member and the co-founder of audit software provider Jet Stream Innovations, tells Cannabis Business Times.

Within ASTM International’s cannabis committee are subcommittees on cultivation, laboratory testing, quality assurance, manufacturing, processing, security and retail, among others. The committee’s members are both cannabis producers and ancillary businesses that support the industry.

Nodland became involved with the organization two years ago, and has helped write an international audit standard for cannabis businesses, which was released earlier this month.

“ASTM International is proud of the work our members, like Ed Nodland, do to advance standards development," says Daniel Bergels, a spokesman for the organization. "ASTM International takes pride in our rigorous voluntary consensus approach–which ensures everyone has a voice in the standards development process and that consensus has to be met for a standard to be approved.”

The new standard, which will be published as D8308, provides a framework that could help internal quality and compliance teams, external stakeholders and third-party auditors develop best practices for their assessments. The D8303 guidance will help business owners define what needs to be audited, perform an audit and report results.

“The audit standard I wrote … says, you’ve got to know what you’re doing,” Nodland says. “You’ve got to turn criteria into [an] audit program. You’ve got to have qualified auditors that … have good interview questions that are not misleading, that are not intimidating [and] that cause the people you’re interviewing to open up. You’ve got to be able to write a good report and present that report to the people that you’re doing the audit for.”

ASTM International writes standards in one of two ways, Nodland says. Sometimes, a group of people who are interested in a particular standard will come together to collaborate on it, while other times, one individual will volunteer to write a standard, as Nodland did with the auditing standard. In the latter case, the author will send a draft of the standard out for ballot, where it is posted online for subcommittee participants to review and submit comments.

Nodland received feedback on his auditing standard over the course of six months, and then he revised it based on the comments he received. When it was put out for ballot a second time, it was reviewed by the subcommittee, the main committee and the committee on standards, and was then released as an approved standard.

Now, Nodland is leading discussions within the group on writing specific types of audits.

“What needs to be audited in the testing lab? What needs to be audited in the food manufacturer? What would a quality systems audit look like for cannabis? How is that different than just a quality systems audit for an aircraft manufacturer? What’s different about cannabis that needs to be known?” he says. “That’s where we’re going next, is to be able to write those types of audits. We had those discussions just about a week ago on, where do we go next with this?”

Each ASTM International committee meets twice a year, and the cannabis committee currently meets in late January or early February and then again in late June or early July each year. The next meeting is scheduled for June 28-29 in Boston.

“There, we have a chance to actually sit down in work groups with each other in person and actually talk stuff out and work out details or strategize on what standards are necessary and what’s happening in the industry,” Nodland says.

In addition to the newly released auditing standard, ASTM International’s D37 committee has also recently released standards on video surveillance systems, access control systems and intrusion detection systems, and the committee is in the process of writing several other standards, as well.

“[Forthcoming standards will address questions such as,] how do you keep mold and fungus and mildew from growing in your indoor grow operations?” Nodland says. “Testing labs—how do we test this stuff? What’s the best way to test for the THC content? A lot of stuff is being adopted from other industries, [such as] heavy metals [testing]—that’s being done in the food industry already, but that’s being written.”

Although some of the standards being written by ASTM International’s cannabis committee already exist in other industries, Nodland says it is important for them to be centralized through the organization.

“One of the things that’s happening with ASTM is we’re working to make it a … one-stop shop,” he says. “If you’re in the cannabis industry, you can come here, and you will find all the standards you need for your particular part of this industry. That way, you don’t have to turn to the food industry for some regulations and the agriculture industry for some regulations, especially when the FDA is not writing cannabis agriculture regulations and food safety regulations for cannabis because it’s illegal at the federal level.”

ASTM International’s cannabis committee is referencing the standards that already exist, Nodland adds, to ensure it is not duplicating work that has already been done, but the group is also rewriting some of these existing standards to make them more applicable to the cannabis industry.

Overall, working to standardize the cannabis industry through this collaborative process will ultimately help identify best practices, Nodland said.

“[The standards] set the rules,” he said. “They set the guidelines … [that] say, this is the best way to do it."