It’s not uncommon to hear seasoned cannabis industry operators say that keeping cannabis businesses compliant sometimes feels like an uphill battle. The cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the US and even states like California, old-pros in the cannabis game, have regulations that evolve and change. If you’re a budding cannabis brand or establishing a business in a state that’s new to cannabis, your compliance struggles can seem even more overwhelming. 

The good news? No matter your level of experience in the legal cannabis industry or your location in the country, you aren’t alone in your struggles with compliance. And with the right tools, you can master the art of compliance for your cannabis business in no time. 

What in the World is an SOP?

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure, which is a controlled document that records each of the various tasks and procedures involved in your business each day. When done correctly, these documents make your life easier as a business owner in two main ways: by documenting the procedures that go on at every level of your organization and creating a foolproof plan for employees to follow.

While it is more common for SOPs to be used in laboratory, food, or drug environments, having SOPs for your cannabis business can help protect your cannabis business legally and make your business more efficient – minimizing the daily headaches you experience as a business owner. 

Why Do You Need SOPs for Your Cannabis Business?

Right now, the cannabis industry is something like the California Gold Rush and the Wild West all in one. The industry has a predicted valuation of over $102 billion in the next decade – and right now, it seems like everyone is looking for their share of the fortune. Amidst this rapid growth, frequent legal changes are to be expected. More and more states are beginning to allow adult-use marijuana, and in fact, New York has just issued its first recreational cannabis cultivation licenses. 

The good news for you is that the cannabis businesses that master compliance now, rather than later, will be the businesses that achieve long-term success in this industry. While SOPs were traditionally seen as a framework that was exclusive to cannabis growers, even dispensaries and cannabis retailers have reaped the benefits of SOPs in recent years. Creating solid SOPs for your business is a great way to set your business apart from the competition and position yourself for success.

One of the main goals of an SOP is to provide quality assurance, from upholding industry standards to ensuring uniformity in your day-to-day business operations. Maintaining a good SOP plan ensures that your business can compete with the biggest and best cannabis retailers, processors, and growers, and it also fosters brand loyalty between you and customers. 

Recent data from Gartner, 80% of consumers refuse to do business with brands they don’t trust. An SOP plan can help you position your brand as a trusted source for cannabis products because customers know that your brand is consistent, and they can expect positive experiences each time they come through your door. 

It’s important to note that SOPs are also “living” documents, meaning they change and evolve as your business changes and evolves. This allows you flexibility, as a business owner, to shape and adjust the plan based on your needs over time and as rules, regulations, and internal brand standards change in the coming years. 

Getting Ready to Prepare SOPs

Before you begin writing an SOP, you should take stock of your business and consider where you’re headed as a brand. When getting ready to draft an SOP, it can be a great time to reflect on your business’s strengths and weaknesses. 

The key factor to keep in mind throughout the process is that SOPs are inherently customizable for your brand at any time. Let’s say you’re considering a new method of propagation or fertigation, create SOPs to ensure all employees working in that area follow the same procedures so your controlled test provides results that can be evaluated and then duplicated if or when you decide to introduce the new method.   

You will need to record and analyze current practices to start writing your various standard operating procedures, so connecting with your team is a great place to start. Especially for larger, multi-state operators (MSOs), this stage is a critical opportunity for you to get to know your staff at all levels of operation and understand what their day-to-day looks like. 

As you look ahead, consider that your SOP plan will grow alongside your company. What will your business look like five years from now? What needs do you anticipate? Consider your SOP plan as your business’s right-hand man; in what ways can it best serve your business goals? 

Many cannabis operators are unaware that an SOP plan can make or break their business in terms of compliance. Before you get started, it’s considered a best practice to review local laws and regulations for cannabis businesses in order to avoid hefty fines, license suspensions, or even license revocations. (Having trouble keeping up with the latest changes? You aren’t alone. Learn how ProCanna’s industry-leading software solutions can keep you updated on the latest compliance standards in your state!)

Don’t be afraid to utilize industry resources. ProCanna’s top-of-the-line compliance software makes keeping up with legal parameters a breeze. Request a demo today to see how ProCanna can assist your cannabis cultivation business with SOP creation, management, and storage.

What to Include in Your Cannabis Cultivation SOPs

No matter the needs of your individual business, SOPs, in general, will always include some essential elements to properly outline and detail essential processes. 

The first part of any SOP will be the header. This should give the title alongside a document number and revision number. You should also include the author and publish date at the top of the page. While it may seem like an obvious thing to include, keeping track of these elements is essential to keeping solid SOPs. 

Below this, you will need to provide a brief purpose and scope. Here you should simply cover why the SOP exists and where it is to be used.

You should then go on to name who is responsible for what. This section can be covered using job titles to identify responsibility.

Prior to discussing specific procedural practices, you must cover relevant definitions as well as any materials or equipment that will be required during the operation. Some common aspects that many cannabis cultivation SOPs cover includes safe storage and handling instructions and warnings for chemicals that are used during particular cultivation stages.

The actual procedure part of an SOP should list step-by-step instructions that guide employees on how to complete a task and how to document the process. These instructions should be as detailed as possible so that they could be replicated in any situation. Most cannabis businesses will have a Quality Assurance department or officer, and they should be involved in checking that the SOP procedure section meets best practices concerning quality and compliance standards.

After this section, you will need criteria that help guarantee that a procedure is valid. This criterion will usually involve checking that specific environmental conditions are met, data is recorded, measurements are correct, and proper verification steps are taken.

Your SOP should also list any related documents that an employee may need to use or read to properly complete the procedure. The document list is also useful for when an SOP is to be updated as it shows which other documents must be considered for edits.

The final section should show the history of changes made to the document. You will need to include the author, who approved the changes, the revision number, and the date in this section. It is also important to update the revision number and date at the front of the document to reflect the latest changes and track the edits you’ve made on the document over time. 

Top Writing Tips

Now you know the sections to include when writing an SOP, but there is more to writing a useful SOP than just the basics. 

Here we have listed some top tips from our cannabis compliance experts, designed to help you create the most beneficial standard operating procedures every time.

  1. Keep your writing concise 

SOPs should primarily focus on what needs to be done during specific procedures, you don’t need to cover why it must be done in your SOP. SOPs instruct on the overall step-by-step process and don’t usually go into too much detail. If you feel like certain steps require further elaboration and explanation then you can also create a work instruction document. Here you can discuss certain tasks in-depth and provide any additional information that may be pertinent to employees carrying out a task.

  1. Control procedure variables and risks

Part of the purpose of an SOP is to account for factors that may change and could affect the outcome of a procedure. Consider what obstacles you might face by evaluating your business internally and with the help of your quality assurance team. Once you understand the variables, you can come up with a plan to reduce or eliminate these risks. Cannabis cultivation businesses need to produce consistent and repeatable outcomes. In order to achieve this, businesses must acknowledge and plan for potential procedure variables.

  1. Write verification processes into the procedure

As we know, SOPs should include specific requirements for each procedure. For instance, measurements of the nutrients to be used or the temperature at which goods should be stored during various stages.

SOPs should also include a space in which employees record and verify the details of their activity. It is common to have one employee record the measurements, for example, of a substance used in a nutrients recipe, and to have another employee or manager check and sign against this record. Keeping records of details like this can be invaluable. If any issues come to light at a later date, your company will be able to examine the records to resolve the issue and protect against potential lawsuits.

If you have an interest in propelling your business to the next level, maintaining SOPs for your cannabis business can be a great way to stay ahead of the game when it comes to compliance. Looking for more guidance on how to write SOPs and keep your cannabis business compliant? Reach out today to learn how Pro Canna’s team of compliance experts can help safeguard your business.