Cannabis industry professionals are calling for federal legalization in order to implement and standardize food safety procedures for product manufacturers.

In a Food Safety Summit session sponsored by Columbia Laboratories, Kathy Knutson, microbiologist and independent consultant for EAS Consulting Group, noted that players in the traditional food and beverage industry are accustomed to good manufacturing practices (GMPs), while the cannabis industry largely is not.

The cannabis industry may also be unfamiliar with other critical measures, such as hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), food safety and recall plans, or having a certified preventive controls qualified individual (PCQI) on staff.

“The cannabis industry is recognizing that they have to implement GMPs, but most companies don’t even have that foundation,” she said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Knutson pointed to the alcoholic beverage industry, which also manufactures intoxicating products, but under federal regulation.

“As a group, I don’t care what your opinion is about alcoholic beverages, but they are legalized and they have regulation at the federal level,” she said. “We need cannabis regulation at the federal level.”

Knutson also cited the importance of treating cannabis as an ingredient that requires validation, just like any other ingredient in a product formulation.

“That extract comes to you with all kinds of chemistry, all kinds of potential hazards,” she said. “There are a lot of restrictions around that, but it is an ingredient going into a recipe, so it’s going to be a supply chain preventative control on your hazard analysis.”

Furthermore, given the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s view that cannabis should not be incorporated into food or dietary supplements, Knutson noted that including a nutrition or supplement facts label on their product packaging could open manufacturers up to investigation, even if their state requires it.

“It’s a really tough place to be in,” she said.

Meanwhile, Heather Krug, laboratory auditor for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, pointed to the differences in testing for hemp and cannabis, adding that hemp is often tested for pesticides more than cannabis is.

However, despite all the testing that occurs, risk still exists across the supply chain and in manufacturing, Krug said. She cited the use of delta-8-THC, which is typically synthesized instead of extracted.

“We, as regulators, have created testing schemes that we have based upon what we believe to be known risks associated with cannabis products, but depending on exactly what you’re making, your process for making it, the ingredients you use, how much verification of the inputs you’re actually doing as a manufacturer, we may not be addressing all of the risks actually relevant to cannabis products,” she said. “That’s why we really need this industry to start moving toward food safety models where risk assessment, hazard analysis are just the norm.”

In addition to Knutson and Krug’s presentations, Lori Dodson, senior advisor for the Maryland Cannabis Commission, offered an overview of the cannabis cultivation process.

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