The Scientist Grower: A New Realm of Possibilities

Cultivation & Science

Forward by Dan Sutton

The production of Cannabis has historically been carried out in an informal but impassioned process. The wide and seasoned network of growers in British Columbia represents some of the best breeding and strain development in the world, armed with decades of learned instinct and know-how. Their contribution to the advancement of ever-more specialized strains anchors the diversity and quality that Cannabis users in this Province are privileged to. BC Bud is a household name for users worldwide, thanks to the rich and localized culture of green-thumb expertise and cultivation enthusiasts.

However, with the issuance of licenses for commercial producers under the new framework announced by Health Canada in 2013, requirements and expectations have a new benchmark. In line with the new guidelines, appropriate quality assurance and quality control represent the cornerstone of any aspiring company’s application and operations. This obligation was designed to protect public health, but it has a latent effect that will push Canadian Cannabis production into a world spotlight: the unprecedented collection of meticulous cultivation data.

The same level of enthusiasm seen in our rich cultural heritage now has the opportunity to benefit from advanced monitoring, recording, and analysis of virtually every environmental parameter in the cultivation cycle. When passionate growers and cultivation scientists collaborate, the result can be ever more quality. This quantified science is educating the potential to realize a new frontier for cultivators, pushing the boundaries of a goal that any Cannabis stakeholder identifies with: product that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world.



Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance refers to a systematic production process that ensures predictable outcomes, or products of predictable quality, meeting specification. This is distinct from Quality Control in which the final production is measured and either passes or fails to meet criteria. This means that a viable production process is practiced in a way that assures quality rather than being open to unpredictable, potentially dangerous, and costly failures. Collectively, the system under which product quality is assured and managed is abbreviated to “QA/QC”.

Quality Assurance depends upon Standard Operating Procedures that meet commonly referred to “Good Production Practices”. This also implies that the procedures or processes are monitored and measurements taken to ensure adherence to specified conditions. For example, the production of Marijuana plants is dependent upon appropriate conditions of light intensity, light duration (or day-length), temperature, and humidity, and furthermore these conditions vary over time. The management of a defined quality assured system of production requires qualified personnel and a suitable reporting structure. In addition, data collection and data management become an important element of successfully accomplishing the maintenance of such a defined system of production.

It would appear that some of the problems experienced by nascent producers of marijuana under the new system of licenses is a result of a failure to appreciate what is required to achieve predictable product quality under a quality-assured system. Unfortunately, it would appear that only once testing of the end product was performed was it found to be contaminated.

Standard Operating Procedures

Tantalus Labs has developed Standard Operating Procedures for greenhouse production including defined conditions for each stage of plant development such as seed germination or rooting of cuttings, vegetative growth, flower initiation, and flower development. Monitoring of greenhouse environmental conditions is used to feed back into greenhouse control systems to ensure that conditions such as light, humidity, and evaporative demand fall within acceptable limits. While oversight of such systems requires diligence, it actually relies upon routinely used control systems that represent best practices in the commercial greenhouse industry. Tantalus believes that the use of the tried and true methods of top greenhouse producers in combination with scientifically managed procedures specific to the marijuana plant, is the efficient and appropriate approach to commercial marijuana production.

Once the product is harvested, the further steps of drying and product storage are defined and monitored in a similar manner. These important additional steps are vital in ensuring product quality does not deteriorate and in defining product shelf life.

Finally each batch of product is sampled for quality control including all the required tests for microbial contamination etc., and for product quality and the concentration of active compounds. These steps are described in detailed by Dr. Kennard in his discussion of Quality Control (QC). QC results are integrated with the information collected at all stages of production for a particular batch of product.

Data Collection and Data Management

A key element of the system involves data collected at every stage of production and used to track each batch of production to the end product. In this manner, product quality can be correlated with batch, strain, and production conditions in a cycle of continuous feedback and improvement. To be useful, data must not only be collected and analyzed; it must be used to generate reports that are useful to production staff, quality control staff, and the senior management. This will require that detailed and summary reports are generated within formats which are easy to understand and manage.

Below is an example of how each a single of the process is managed and assessed:

Production Step

  • eg. Drying of Flower Buds

Production Protocol

  • Reducing Moisture content in stepwise fashion to defined % moisture

Assessment Protocol

  • Record environmental conditions in facility (eg. light, humidity)
  • Assess cleanliness, moisture content of product etc.

Assessment Report

  • Weekly summary of environmental conditions
  • Product Quality and Uniformity
  • Dryness & Texture
  • Graph of moisture over time
  • Audit of product quantity

Data Records

  • Daily environmental conditions by batch
  • Weekly summary of sanitation, cleanliness and product quality

Signatures by by Quality Control personnel and Production personnel.

The ability to manage the level of detail reflected in the above example, and to be able to use such information effectively, is absolutely dependent upon an effective Information Technology (IT) system. Tantalus Labs regards a responsive IT system as a core element in a successful enterpise.

Personnel & Reporting Structures

Last but by no means least, the reporting structure within our enterprise’s culture is vital to ensuring that quality is maintained. While the accountability and commitment of greenhouse production staff is applauded, it is equally important that each step of the process is accompanied by an independent report by the quality control staff. In turn, quality control staff are mandated to report directly to the senior management of the company on a regular basis. This means that any anomalies in the production process or the product quality are highlighted at a senior level immediately. This approach to quality assurance and quality control avoids the influence of the inevitable natural bias of production staff to present their product in the best light. This bias can otherwise, all be it unintentionally, lead to quality problems being ignored.

At Tantalus we believe that the involvement of Ph.D.-level personnel with considerable operational experience in their respective fields allows us to maximize our opportunity to excel in product consistency and product improvement. We encourage a sense of accountability within our wider culture with a focus on product quality and customer satisfaction that is embraced by our whole team.