Why Are Standards Development Organizations Crucial in the Cannabis Industry?

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In this interview, Jimmy Farrell, Standards Development Manager at ASTM International, explains the important role ASTM plays in safety and quality of the global cannabis industry.

Members of the ASTM International D37 Committee on Cannabis work continuously to develop standards to ensure the safety and quality of cannabis products through testing methods, cultivation guides, laboratory considerations, and more. Here, Jimmy Farrell provides a deep dive into what these processes look like and how to get involved.

The upcoming Cannabis Science Conference will host several ASTM meetings and attendees are encouraged to attend one or all of the meetings to see firsthand the collaborative efforts to establish these standards and to contribute their perspectives.

Learn more from Jimmy Farrell about this opportunity to shape standards and methods in the global cannabis industry.

The four ASTM meetings being held on May 7th, 2024 at the Cannabis Science Conference:

  • ASTM Subcommittee D37.93 on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Meeting • Scheril Murray Powell, Esq., Cannabis, Agricultural, and Dietary Supplement Attorney
  • ASTM Subcommittee D37.04 Initiative on Equipment & Facility Cleaning • Darwin Millard, Technical Director at CSQ
  • Joint ASTM Subcommittee Initiative on Vape Device Safety & Testing • Darwin Millard
  • ASTM Task Group on developing a Standard Guide for Cannabis/Hemp Laboratory Out-of-Specifications (OOS) and Retesting (WK85874) • Jini Glaros, Chief Scientific Officer at Modern Canna Laboratories

Learn more the video, read the transcript below, and register here for Cannabis Science Conference Spring 2024! See you in Kansas City, Missouri May 7–9, 2024!


Read more about the important work of ASTM International in the cannabis industry:

Can you tell us a little about ASTM?

Jimmy Farrell: Hi, my name is Jimmy Farrell, I am a staff manager at ASTM, and that means that I manage our technical committees who are working throughout 148 industries to develop voluntary consensus standards. My role is to help facilitate our consensus process, and the committee that I'm here to talk about today's committee D37 on cannabis. ASTM, at high level, we are an international standards developer, and that means that we have a consensus process that allows all voices from a given marketplace, a given industry to come to the table and develop what would be an international standard so it can be utilized in any jurisdiction. If for some reason that standard cannot be utilized in a jurisdiction there, these living documents can be updated at any time by the committee so that they are market relevant. That is the goal of our ASTM committees is to develop market relevant standards so that they can be utilized.

For people that aren't familiar with ASTM, it's probably touching your life in multiple capacities without you even realizing it. But the next time that you're in, say, a hardware store, and you're going down, most of any of the aisles, you'll see, on a lot of products, there's a label or a stamp indicating a conformance to an ASTM designation, like if you're looking at a piece of PVC or plastic pipe, it'll probably have an ASTM designation stamped on it. The same thing with like a copper pipe or a bag of concrete mix. So that's probably an easy place to go to understand exactly how these specifications are utilized in the real world. If you're just sitting at home, and you have a highlighter, there's a conformance to an ASTM standard on a highlighter, if it's developed under that ASTM standard. It would indicate that if a child decided to stick the marker in their mouth, that it's not made with a toxic product, so a parent could feel safe that while maybe disgusting, their child is not going to have a terribly adverse reaction to that ingestion.

Why are standards development organizations crucial in the cannabis industry?

Farrell: The cannabis industry, while unique in some senses, it is a marketplace and standards have underpinned marketplaces for centuries in terms of being able to do something a way or being able to speak a common language about the thing that you're doing. And cannabis has a lot of unique opportunities, but like other marketplaces, it needs a baseline—everybody has to be able to do this if you're doing this thing within the marketplace. And so that's where standards development organization comes in, and that's where hopefully the ASTM process is appealing to folks, that it is open to people who have an interest or an expertise in the subject matter.

If you work in some part of the cannabis space, and you're seeing issues around a particular thing, and you have the drive to try to help the industry be on the same plane with that thing, you can come to ASTM, you can come to D37, you can propose a work item like Jini did, and you can roll up your sleeves to help develop that with other people that have a like interest. Without something like that, you have this fragmented way of doing something and it doesn't ensure product consistency, it doesn't ensure consumer safety, it doesn't even ensure worker safety. We have standards that are dedicated to the inhalation of cannabis dust and understanding how to mitigate any potential issues with that, or you're working with heavy machinery in some cases, or big glass containers that could break. There has to be safety standards around workers as well as consumers and it all starts at the foundation of an organization like ASTM and others. It's difficult in a new industry to appreciate the return on investment, that you're putting effort into the development of these standards and you're not getting paid to do it. You have to decide, “can I dedicate my resources that I need to make money to stay legitimate also in the ASTM.” It's very difficult for cannabis because people need to be able to make a space for themselves in the marketplace. But ultimately these standards will greatly affect the industry to be able to operate a little more cleanly going forward.

How would federal rescheduling of cannabis affect standards for testing, safety, and quality of cannabis products?

Farrell: ASTM does not lobby to have any regulations changed in any industry or anything like that. But I can easily state the fact that a rescheduling would allow access to capital as well as access to research, which have traditionally enhanced a marketplace’s ability to dedicate time to the development of standards. Having access to both money and research is what's going to lend itself to a more scientifically robust or scientifically accurate approach to any part of a standardization process. So it's just going to give the industry, the marketplace, the room it needs to grow appropriately.