How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure for the Cannabis Industry

Creating clear and actionable standard operating procedures for your cannabis business can be a daunting task. We've put together this easy guide on how to craft SOPs your team will actually use, and how a thought-out SOP strategy will impact your bottom line.

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Legal cannabis retailers need to establish standard operating procedures (SOP) if they intend on succeeding in the long run.

As your business grows, if there isn’t an SOP in-place to govern the various machinations of your dispensary, things will can quickly spin out of control.

There are many ways to create and implement a standard operating procedure. You could utilize a business consultant, lawyers, or a freelance technical writer. Keep in mind, however, that no one knows your business like you do. Not only is it more cost-effective to craft your on SOPs, but they will likely be more relevant and accurate than one produced by an outside consultant.

To produce an excellent SOP, you must know what to write, why you’re writing it in the first place, and the best way to organize the document.

Once the SOP is completed and implemented, your employees will likely garner a greater collective understanding of the processes and procedures that keep your business thriving. From there, continued success and peace of mind will arrive in short order.

Let’s examine legal cannabis standard operating procedures a bit further.

What SOPs Are Used For

While SOPs are useful for in cultivation and laboratory environments, they are also ideal when it comes to managing workflow in a retail setting.

An SOP should explain the following:

  • Why processes are performed
  • Whom is expected to execute a given process
  • The procedures/steps necessary to accomplish each process
  • The definition of terms required for the reader to follow the steps of an outline
  • Health and safety issues
  • Equipment and supplies procedures
  • Emergency procedures

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Important Considerations

Several other factors should be taken into consideration when architecting the framework of your cannabis standard operating procedure:

  • First and foremost, consider why your dispensary is using an SOP. Is it to help ensure you’re staying on top of the constantly shifting rules and regulations involved in the cannabis industry? Is it to boost the overall efficiency of employees? Perhaps it's to strictly maintain consistency across business units.
  • Clearly define the start and finish when mapping out each particular procedure. Firmly grasping the scope of a process prevents inefficient overlaps with other documents.
  • Remember, your SOP can establish a standardized method of communication in your business, which allows everybody to communicate in one uniform way – limiting the chances for misinterpretations.

Keep it Simple and All-Inclusive

Succinctness is critical in producing an effective SOP. Being too technical or too long-winded will likely confuse your team become counterproductive. You want each employee to grasp how their role and responsibilities fit within the framework of an SOP and to accomplish each task with a deeper understanding of its purpose.

As such, write your SOP in words all employees can decipher.

Frontline employees should play a prominent role in SOP development, considering these documents will be used for many of their day-to-day tasks. With a budtender’s hands-on insights and a manager’s outside, supervisorial perspective, there’s well-rounded input that’ll ensure an actionable and concise SOP. When it comes to sophisticated, highly-technical procedures, owners, managers, and outside consultants should collaborate to make sure things are documented accurately.

Those involved in a given procedure should play a vital part in its standardization.

Even new hires – after you’ve implemented an SOP – play a part in evolving procedures as your business grows and changes.

Scrutinizing the Procedures

As you assess each procedure step-by-step, metrics help set benchmarks that’ll clearly illustrate where your dispensary is succeeding and there is room for improvement.

For instance, a prompt closing of your store offsets operations costs. Imagine it’s taking 45 minutes for your employees to complete closing tasks when it should be taking 15 minutes. Provided your budtenders are on an hourly wage, that amounts to 3.5 hours of extra pay per week. It’s also 3.5 extra hours that the electricity is running.

In this case, shorter and more efficient closes will suggest the relevant SOPs are helping boost efficiency. The metrics here are simple but relevant to many other business scenarios. Always keep in mind the age-old truism: time is money.

As your team works towards better closing times, the SOP improves along the way. Perhaps, the solution is something as straight-forward as mandating that two people count money at the tills to speed up the process. Maybe it's a matter of ensuring the mop is prepared 10 minutes before you shut the doors. These efforts can be implemented into your closing SOP.

The applicable metric for a given process clarifies the overarching purpose and goals of your SOPs. Seeing what you’re working towards allows everybody to get on the same page.


Ideally, for the sake of simplicity, format SOPs in the most plug-and-play manner as possible. No reason to re-invent the wheel each time you go to create a new SOP.

Here is an example of the order in which you should format your SOP:

  • Standard Operating Procedure
    • Title of the procedure (e.g., opening, closing, ordering, order picking)
  • Executing Position, Role, or Person
    • (e.g., budtender, manager, budtender, buyer)
  • Date and Supervisor’s signature
  • Purpose
    • Why is this process being implemented?
  • Definitions
    • Clarifies any technical terms being utilized within the instructions
  • Procedure
  • Step-by-step instructions

For your convenience, we've put together a template SOP designed specifically for the cannabis industry. Whether you're operating a cultivation facility, an infused product lab, or a retail dispensary, this cannabis SOP template will help you and your business to run as efficiently and profitably as possible. Download it here.

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