A group hoping to establish a nationwide certification for medical marijuana dispensaries gave its first-ever stamp of approval to two California pot shops Feb. 20.
Americans for Safe Access, a pro-marijuana group, certified two dispensaries in the Bay Area: the Berkeley Patients Group and the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center.
The group uses a certification process known as Patient Focused Certification that applies criteria provided by the American Herbal Products Association and the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. The process includes a scheduled physical audit of the dispensaries, a staff audit, a complaint process, and at least one yearly surprise audit.
“The Patient Focused Certification program will give patients, regulators and everyone in the cannabis industry confidence that products are standardized and meet quality standards,” said Sean Luse, chief operations officer for Berkeley Patients Group. “These types of standards are long overdue and we’re happy to be a part of this important program.”
The audit process also determines whether dispensaries are obeying state laws. Once a dispensary is certified, it can display a “PFC” seal on its products and promotions.
“I expect that just like consumers look for and know they can trust a Better Business Bureau or Good Housekeeping seal of approval, patients will seek out dispensaries who abide by those product safety standards,” Luse said.
Industry proponents have long called for nationwide standards to evaluate dispensaries. Certification programs have been developed in several states, but Americans for Safe Access is pursuing the first national program.
“A few years ago, we started working with the American Herbal Products Association to create industry standards that can assure the quality of these products,” said Steph Sherer, the group’s founder and executive director. “There needs to be some type of assurance that the products being sold to patients are free of contaminants.”
A stamp of approval, Sherer said, gives consumers and the industry certainty about the quality of products and packaging. It could lead to uniform quality standards across the business, she said.
“If everybody needs to meet these basic standards – that everybody is using their cannabis, that everybody is using proper packaging – then it creates a level playing field for those companies to then be innovative and then excel,” Sherer said.
The Berkeley Patients Group is the oldest and largest dispensary in the city. It was sued by the federal government in 2013 after officials claimed the shop was too close to a school – the same allegation that forced the store to move a year earlier. The City of Berkeley countersued on the dispensary’s behalf.
The San Francisco Patient and Resource Center opened in 2010 in the South of Market neighborhood.