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How to Create Cultivation SOPs in an Industry That Lacks Standardization

There are no internationally accepted standards for licensed cannabis cultivation.

This is due in part to decades of global criminalization of cannabis. Organizations that develop standards have little incentive to create international guidelines for criminal activity.

Fortunately, with the normalization and legalization of cannabis, this is changing.

Groups like the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS) and ASTM International have created global standards and auditing processes for every component of a cultivation business.

Nationally, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and Americans for Safe Access are working towards establishing standards for the cannabis industry through the collaboration of association members and subject matter experts.

Just this month, I finished authoring the Indoor Cannabis Cultivation Standards for the National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB).

With so many organizations doing the same work, how does a cultivator choose which standards to follow, and how do they create standard operating procedures (SOPs) that comply with these standards?

Don’t worry about identifying the best standards to use. Focus instead on adopting any one of these organization’s standards, then stick to it. If you create a company culture that recognizes the importance of standards and compliance with SOPs, then once a unified set of standards does come into play, you won’t be facing expensive retrofits or radical process changes to comply with new guidelines.

Before planting the first seed, a cultivation business should have a complete suite of SOPs to help train their cultivation staff and then use these documents as a guide throughout the entire cultivation process. As a company matures, it’s natural to discover better, more efficient ways of doing things, but these changes need to be documented following internal protocols.

The best cultivation businesses have strict guidelines about how an SOP is approved, how it’s changed, and who has the authority to make these changes.

At a minimum, a cultivation start-up should have SOPs that cover the following topics:

  • SOPs and their Management
  • Organization and Personnel
  • Workflow and Space Allocation
  • Cleanliness and Sanitation
  • Inventory Control Management
  • Stock Plant Production
  • Propagation
  • Vegetative Plant Growth
  • Flowering Plant Growth
  • Harvesting, Trimming, and Drying
  • Destruction of Plant Waste

Cultivation companies may choose to break up these protocols to cover more specific processes within each of the above activities, like pest and disease control, irrigation and fertilization, and plant pruning. Most companies develop protocols that extend outside the cultivation department to cover areas like quality assurance, security, and shipping and receiving.

I strongly recommend that a cultivation business dedicate one individual to oversee the creation, management, and revision of its SOPs.

Growers are not fanatical about paperwork, which is why they spend more time in the greenhouse than in the office. Boring tasks get pushed until the end of the day, and for busy growers, the workday is never long enough.

SOP updates that get punted until the next day or next week may never get done at all—placing the business at serious risk of non-compliance. To avoid the repercussions of letting a grow operation slip into non-compliance, hire a document control specialist to manage the SOP process. This person should have a background in quality assurance or quality control, or at least be an excellent writer with great attention to detail.

When I ran cultivation for Canopy Growth Corporation, our document control specialist had a reputation for being strict, and she even kept a whip in her office! She was the perfect person to keep me and my cultivation team in line.

Ryan Douglas

Ryan Douglas

Ryan Douglas helps new cultivation businesses come to market quickly and spend less money getting there. He is the founder of Ryan Douglas Cultivation, LLC and author of From Seed to Success: How to Launch a Great Cannabis Cultivation Business in Record TimeRyan has worked in commercial horticulture for 23 years and specializes in legal cannabis start-ups.

Before entering the cannabis industry, Ryan spent 15 years as a commercial greenhouse grower of ornamental and edible crops, growing up to 600,000 plants annually. As Master Grower from 2013 to 2016, he directed cultivation for Tweed Inc., the flagship subsidiary of Canopy Growth Corporation. Ryan now offers cultivation advisory services to cannabis operators worldwide, and he can be reached through his website,

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