The key to a quality product is consistency, according to Karen Parent, who works as the Chief Quality and Compliance Officer at Zenabis - one of Canada’s largest Licensed Cannabis Producers.
Parent’s job, as she puts it, is to "provide quality assurance and compliance, guidance and strategy for the facilities to ensure that we protect our license and meet all of the requisite regulatory requirements within Canada, as well as internationally."
And that's a vital role to fill for Zenabis since their ability to sell legal cannabis depends on it.
"Because quality is a requirement," she told Civilized. "Ensuring that we meet the regulatory requirements from a compliance perspective is a requirement for our license. If you don’t have the quality assurance component within each of your facilities, you can’t operate. Without this role we don’t have a license. As we’re growing, as we’re expanding, et cetera, we absolutely have to have somebody that has a macro view of quality and compliance for all the facilities. Because absent of that, our licenses would be jeopardized."
By what metric is the quality assured by? What’s the standard?
In this particular case, we are guided under the regulations set up by Health Canada, and those current regulations are called the ACMPR, and within those regulations, we must meet those Good Production Practices (GPP), and with Zenabis, we want to reach an even higher standard, and that’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).
We’re also meeting these standards for Europe, where they’re called EWGMP standards, so that we can distribute our products to Europe, and those standards are higher than good production practice standards and only six other Licensed Producers in Canada have that level of standard that they are able to achieve and that level of certification and standard.
How do you ensure quality without adding too much cost to the consumer?
There is a price point that cannabis is currently within a certain range of. In 2017, the product was selling for around $8. We personally are not looking at having the consumer absorb the cost of certification and additional quality assurance. So, the end user won’t know and won’t feel the burden of cost.
But, what they will know, is they’ll have the confidence that we have a higher level of certification. Right now, there is a supply issue. In the future, people are going to become connoisseurs of quality products, and when they experience our product, they are going to know that it is of the highest quality.
As with any product on the market, there will be the 5-star restaurants, and there will be the Big Macs. What do you think will be the distinguishing factor between these poles for cannabis?
It’s going to become not much different than the experience for wine connoisseurs. I think a lot of customers coming from medical cannabis - they are looking to see if our growing practices and production practices are creating a standard for our product. So, if you have pain, or epilepsy or cancer, or a number of other conditions or diseases, the last thing you want is inconsistent results. If that is the case, then it has not been grown to a level of standardization that would create product people have come to expect. Consistency is important.
People will become much more aware of good product versus product that is just being grown for the sake of getting it out the door. You might get away with it now, but in the future, people will become connoisseurs, regardless of whether it’s medical, or recreational.
How do you anticipate legalized recreational cannabis will affect the market? Are you worried about a sudden drop in quality assurance, as significantly more product will be grown, bought and sold?
Health Canada has an expectation for the product to be of a certain quality. And that quality is defined by internal and third-party tests that the product has to go through to be released. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to a medical or recreational patient, those lab tests must be done, and the lab results must be within certain limits to be released. Connoisseurs will be looking for a product that has just the right specifications. They will be judging it pretty harshly if it’s just low-end product. I think of quality not just as something that’s passed a lab test, but something the consumers will decide.
Even though we’re large, we don’t want to be considered a McDonalds. We want to be known as producing a high-end product that you can rely on.
What’s one thing about Canada's regulations you’d like to address or change?
I think all licensed producers should move towards being GMP certified. The current practice of GPP is all that is currently required. It is difficult to obtain, but if people can’t maintain it, that, to me, means that they are not meeting a standard that’s acceptable.
What are the primary safety concerns are you looking to address?
Health Canada is doing a good job of weeding that out. If, for example, a company is using a pesticide that isn’t legal, then it’s going to be tested and they’re going to be found out. I think a lot of those risks have been mitigated. Mislabeling might still be an issue, which would lead to a recall. But, for the most part, I think that the risk to Canadians from adult recreational or medical has been mitigated. Canadians can be confident that we are producing safe product.