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Author | Photos Esteban Lopez

Women & the Weed Revolution: Aurora’s Penny Sterling

It’s no secret: Canadian cannabis culture has changed drastically over the last few years. Legalization is expected by next summer, and Torontonians get to bask in some of the coolest dispensaries in the country. And last week, the Canadian Cannabis Awards and Lift Co. took place at the Carlu to honour the best and most innovative products and people in Canadian cannabis.

We wanted to chat with some of the women at the helm of cannabis culture and find out what’s behind the progress of this exciting and enigmatic industry. For this installment, we spoke with Penny Sterling, Quality Assurance Director at Aurora Cannabis.

SDTC: What does quality assurance for cannabis look like?

PS: Quality assurance for cannabis looks like quality assurance for any consumer product. You need to assure the safety and efficacy of the final product by having solid written procedures and quality programs for monitoring the entire process from seed to sale. For cannabis, areas such as supply chain and shipping direct to clients can provide greater challenges.

It is also a challenge to keep procedures current when the options and expectations are rapidly changing. The complaints we address on a regular basis are a lot different than other industries.

Does cannabis have to be consumed to gauge quality?

Absolutely not. Cannabis quality can be assessed by visually looking at it, smelling it, and, of course, by analytical testing. Good cannabis can be recognized by a vibrant colour, covered in trichomes that sparkle like crystals, and a pungent, identifiable smell indicating terpenes, unique to each strain. Health Canada has a fairly good array of tests designed to assess the safety of the product. The potency of the major cannabinoids, along with the terpene profile, helps a client assess the likely effectiveness.

Can you walk me through a typical day at work?

Wow, that is a tough question! There are no typical days in this industry yet. There is so much changing, and so many opportunities every day, that no two days are the same. QA is always reviewing documents, assessing risk and releasing product. We are also always training. I spend a fair amount of time communicating with Health Canada – it seems like we are always notifying or amending something.

What drew you to this field?

I am truly blessed to have been given this opportunity to work for a great company like Aurora, doing the job I love in this fast-paced and exciting industry. I have worked in QA for the past fifteen years, in the pharmaceutical and natural health product industry, and when the opportunity to bring that knowledge to the fledgling cannabis industry arose, I jumped at it. I have always believed in cannabis for its natural, healing ability. When I was younger, we had a friend who was battling cancer and attested that cannabis saved their life, and made that dreaded battle bearable.

What are markers of quality that people should be looking at when purchasing cannabis?

People should always ensure their product is purchased from a licensed producer, who they know is audited and reviewed to ensure they have appropriate procedures and controls in place. People should be looking at the testing performed to assure the product meets the required limits for contaminants as well as assessing the potency to determine the product meets their desired levels for the major cannabinoids and the terpenes they desire.

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