Stories from OCS

A Q&A with QA

Dr. Bin Mathew, Director of Quality Assurance at the OCS, on supplying quality cannabis for Ontarians

You’re the QA Director for OCS, ensuring quality cannabis for all Ontarians! That’s a huge responsibility. Tell me about your background.

Then I moved to the pharmaceutical industry, where I worked for 10 years in manufacturing and quality control.I have a background in science. I did my Master’s and PhD in microbiology. I spent my early career in a clinical lab doing research on immunology markers on sepsis in children.


Whoa, that’s a lot of credentials and experience. I’m glad someone like you is checking my cannabis.

What we’re striving for is that everyone buys legally. The products we sell, they’re approved by Health Canada, have traceable ingredients and don’t have harmful additives.

All our products come with a certificate outlining the product lot with acceptable test results.

If we tell you a chocolate bar has 10mg of THC, you can be confident you’re getting 10mg of THC.

The illegal sellers can make big claims, but it’s not backed up by anything. You don’t know what you’re actually getting if you’re buying illegally.


So you went from pharmaceuticals to cannabis. How did that come about?

I was attracted to the cannabis industry because it’s so new and there are many opportunities to contribute. It’s really exciting to be a part of building up an industry.

The pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated and there are very strict guidelines that need to be followed. As you know, getting a drug to market takes years of clinical trials and approvals. I’m able to use that background to help build a regulatory framework for the cannabis industry.

In pharma there is the luxury of having a lot of data and credible peer reviewed sources we can refer to. Contrast that with the cannabis industry, where there is not a lot of real data or peer reviewed studies. We are working on a more standardized approach in all aspects such as cultivation, drying, processing, testing and packaging, so that we can compare results within the industry.

Legalization also means that data is being generated and we are seeing a lot of innovation and scalability in this sector now.

So far, my career in cannabis has been absolutely rewarding as I’ve learned a lot in a short time, and I’m able to apply my previous experience and knowledge to this emerging sector.


What’s it like working at the OCS?

At the OCS, my team and I oversee the responsible distribution of cannabis products to the people of Ontario.

There is never a dull moment as we are constantly striving to find efficiencies in our processes.

In my previous roles, I worked with regulators for quality and compliance. And now that I’m on the receiving end from licensed producers, I can see things from our partners’ perspective.


What’s the OCS QA process like?

Our QA process has many critical checkpoints in the supply chain.

For example, we perform site audits to assess compliance at the production sites.

We validate that the packaging and labelling meet Health Canada requirements.

We review the Certificate of Analysis of all the lots to ensure that they meet the regulatory guidelines. 

We also verify the actual product once it arrives to ensure that the label claims match the corresponding documentation and that they are without any visible damages.

Because we have all these checks, we catch and address most issues before the products ever make it into customers’ hands.


If, despite all that checking, there is a quality issue, what happens?

We have two groups of customers. End consumers who purchase from us online at OCS.ca, and authorized retailers who then sell to end consumers at brick-and-mortar stores.

Our online customers have 14 days to let us know if something’s wrong.

Claimants may need to provide supporting documentation (e.g. photographs, receipts etc.).

Once a claim is launched, we will investigate with the LP. If there is a quality issue, we will offer a full refund.


You mentioned your returns rate is low. How low? Also, which LPs get the most returns?

Returns that are related to quality makes up less than 0.01% of all units sold. That’s fewer than 1 return for every 10,000 units sold.

Returns have been spread evenly across different product types and in most cases directly correspond to the number of units sold. That is, we tend to see a higher number of returns on products that have a higher sales volume.


Is the number of returns increasing or decreasing?

Definitely decreasing.

We started selling cannabis in October 2018. Between October 2018 and May 2019, rate of return related to quality was 0.014%. Between May 2019 and now, rate of return related to quality was 0.005%.

We’re selling a much larger volume than before, yet we’re getting a much lower rate of returned products.

Our QA process has also evolved and improved a lot since launch. We now typically resolve quality issues within approximately 9 days, and we’re working to improve the process even more.


What are the main reasons for returns?

Overall the main reasons for returns are delivery standards not being met (i.e. the product is late or not deliverable), or the product is damaged.

Top reasons for returns related to quality are: recalls; empty containers; dry products. These make up less than 0.01% of all products sold.


Are all your QA colleagues Phd’s in microbiology as well?

There is a good mix of education and experience in our QA department. They’re mostly from food, pharmaceutical and cannabis backgrounds, with a lot of QA experience.

We have a very good breadth of talent.

As the cannabis industry matures, it will function just like any other CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry. We want to ensure that the products are good and consistent just like we see in major brands.


Here’s the most important question: Do you get to sample products?

Great question but the answer is no! All my friends ask me that as well.

In fact, the movement of cannabis is extremely strict. 

For example, the products that we used to brief media are under lock and key, and products that are no longer in use are sent back to the distribution centre to be destroyed.


What do you love most about working at the OCS?

Working at OCS has been amazing. Everyone here is very passionate and engaged. We all want to add value to the industry.

OCS has a very clear mandate and that makes it easy for us to work towards it. We work closely with our partners to ensure that the industry can be successful. We do this while working hard to protect consumers and youth.

Me personally, I feel a lot of satisfaction for being instrumental in the sharp decline of returns from our customers.


What does OCS have coming down the pipe that we can look forward to?

In January 2020 we launched “Cannabis 2.0,” introducing new product categories such as chocolates, soft chews, cookies and teas. They have been selling extremely well.

The LPs understand the consumer demands on these products and are working very hard to scale up productions. They’re also working hard to bring new products to market. I think the next big thing in cannabis would be beverages. Along with everyone else, I’m extremely excited about that.