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21 Sept 2022

Compliance Testing vs. Quality Assurance Testing: What’s the Difference?

There are two pillars of testing that are commonly performed in the licensed cannabis market. And while compliance testing and quality assurance testing have similarities, they can differ both in purpose and intent.


Quality assurance testing is usually performed for cultivators, extractors, manufacturers (or even retailers) that want to validate product quality, improve internal processes or quality check a new process or product in development. This process of checking quality throughout the growing and manufacturing process is not unique to the cannabis industry and plays a significant role in approaches such as GMP (good manufacturing processes) in other industries. In contrast, cannabis compliance testing is a requisite for all salable products; cultivators or manufacturers submit samples of their products to independent state-licensed labs for testing prior to being cleared for wholesalers or dispensaries to sell.


Cannabis Compliance Testing


PSI Labs is an independent lab that is state-licensed and fully accredited for cannabis testing in California and Michigan. Our testing services for cannabis flower, concentrates and infused products such as edibles, topicals and beverages extend beyond licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers to patients and caregivers.


Like many other accredited labs operating in licensed state markets, we provide an electronic Certificate of Analysis (COA) when the testing is complete. This COA contains summaries of all requested tests and the data resulting from our laboratory analyses of the provided or collected flower, concentrate or infused product sample.


For cultivators and manufacturers, COAs are not only a record that is required for state-mandated safety compliance, but can also be used for other purposes, including: establishing a record of their products’ quality; creating a record for the organization’s  internal quality management system; or promoting brand transparency through accessible information for end consumers by sharing the COA.


Here’s a closer look at compliance testing in the markets where PSI Labs operates:


Michigan Testing


  • Cannabinoid profile (potency)

  • Terpene content

  • Foreign matter

  • Water activity and moisture content

  • Microbial and mycotoxin contamination

  • Chemical residue analysis (pesticides, insecticides, fungicides)

  • Heavy metals

  • Residual solvents


All required tests are covered in the COA delivered to Michigan’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA) after PSI Labs completes the sample analysis.


California Testing


  • Cannabinoid profile (potency)

  • Terpene content

  • Foreign matter

  • Moisture content and water activity

  • Microbial and mycotoxin contamination

  • Chemical residue analysis (pesticides, insecticides, fungicides)

  • Heavy metals

  • Residual solvents


Within one day of completing testing, the PSI Labs facility in California must upload the COA to the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) track-and-trace system and send a copy to the DCC via email.


Cannabis Quality Assurance Testing


When a cultivator or manufacturer wants to improve product or process quality, quality assurance testing can play a critical role in providing the necessary data.


Quality assurance testing often involves the exact same types of analysis used for compliance, but it is intended for internal use and in most cases the results are not reported to the state. Such tests are primarily used by a business to gain insight into its product quality and / or facility safety and internal operations.


On the facility level, quality assurance sample collection can be performed onsite by a third-party lab or testing can be done internally for facilities that own and operate the appropriate equipment. Product quality control, process control, acceptance sampling and control charts all fall under the quality assurance umbrella.


Other facility testing services address environmental concerns. Walls can be swabbed, soils examined, water, fertilizers and other inputs sampled and other processes analyzed to determine where contamination may be occuring or source already identified issues from samples that have failed compliance testing.


If a cultivation facility has experienced environmental problems in the past, for example, lab technicians can be called to investigate high-risk zones like the grow area and drying rooms.


With infused products, manufacturers use quality assurance testing such as homogeneity to ensure that doses are consistent across product batches. PSI Labs has a staff of highly trained scientists, qualified to conduct homogeneity testing and even uncover other issues for infused products, such as  residual solvents from processing. 


While accreditation does not extend to making operational recommendations for grows and manufacturing facilities, most laboratories have seen enough facilities to know where to look for problems and can often be the first to identify a high risk area.


Additionally, new products are often tested at various points in the manufacturing process to increase the likelihood of passing final compliance. If a cannabis product or flower sample fails a quality assurance test, the business can then pinpoint what needs to be done in order to improve. This proactive approach to testing, helps ensure that failures in the compliance testing are minimized and only the best possible products are released to the market protecting client brands and reputation.


To learn more about cannabis compliance and quality assurance testing, visit PSI Labs today.

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