Cannabis Packaging Compliance for Manufacturers and Dispensaries
By Green Bits
State cannabis regulators dedicate the majority of their time and effort to a single goal: preventing the diversion of cannabis products to minors and the black market. Labeling and packaging compliance plays a major role in meeting this end.
While the goal of preventing minors from consuming cannabis seems like a simple one, it requires regulators to navigate a complex legal landscape. Every state has its own laws, and most states regularly update, change, and revise their regulations.
This is most evident in the context of packaging and labeling. For instance, California implemented new packaging regulations for the cannabis industry in January 2019 and left manufacturers with virtually no grace period for adopting the new laws – and that is just one state.
Cannabis manufacturers who want to do business in more than one state must maintain compliance with multiple regulatory bodies in parallel. This can quickly become an overwhelming task if two or more states change their rules during the same time period of time.
Why Cannabis Packaging Matters
Most of the earliest cannabis packaging laws treated cannabis like any prescription drug. Many medical cannabis dispensaries continue to use the nondescript cylindrical pill bottles favored by pharmacies – sometimes with a telltale green hue replacing the pharmacy-standard orange.
These pill bottles came about as a result of the 1970 Poison Prevention Packaging Act and proved successful at reducing the number of children who suffered drug-related accidents. However, while these bottles function well for prescription pills, they don’t do a very good job at preventing cannabis ingestion as they are transparent.
As a result, many states adopted regulations requiring dispensaries to place cannabis purchases in opaque, child-resistant pouches or bags. This led to a new problem – consumers tend to remove their cannabis purchases from the child-resistant dispensary pouch and place them in a more accessible location at home.
This has led some manufacturers to rethink their strategy for maintaining packaging compliance. Instead of treating regulation like an unwanted cost, they are re-aligning their packaging processes to offer safe, attractive product containers that meet stringent regulatory needs.
Both compliance and marketing play a major role in this decision. Customized packaging allows cannabis product manufacturers to give themselves branding space in an industry where effective marketing is infamously difficult.
Aesthetics, Functionality, and Compliance
Cannabis manufacturers need to understand that product packaging can be both child-resistant and attractively designed. The design element is important because it generates branding opportunities and helps ensure compliance at the consumer level, which in turn prevents regulators from coming up with even stricter rules to follow in the future.
Instead of repurposing awkward boxes, glass jars, and pharmaceutical containers, the most forward-thinking brands of today’s cannabis market are creating unique packaging solutions designed to meet multiple goals at once. Well-designed packaging can play a strategic role in the success of an entire enterprise if it meets its goals in the following areas:
Compliance. Regulatory compliance will always be a top concern for cannabis manufacturers. No manufacturer can take a solution to market unless it meets – or even better, exceeds – state rules.
Efficiency. Manufacturers have multiple economic incentives to reduce waste when packaging cannabis products. The use of easily obtainable, highly reusable materials can be a long-term net gain if properly implemented.
Cost-Reduction. While some cannabis products may benefit from luxury branding to attract higher-end customers, most manufacturers want to identify compliant, efficient, low-cost solutions for marijuana product packaging.
Environmental Sustainability. Some cannabis packaging companies are developing sustainable, common-sense solutions by using hemp to package cannabis products. Paper and reclaimed plastic can also make a significant difference in a manufacturer’s environmental footprint and lead to valuable branding opportunities.
Aesthetics. Cannabis users tend to think of themselves as being part of a unique culture. Aesthetically pleasing packaging that reinforces this cultural identity can lead to a product outperforming equally valuable options at the dispensary cash register.
Packaging Examples for Specific Product Types
Finding the perfect solution for your cannabis company’s packaging needs requires taking a close look at the regulations of the states you wish to operate in. No one can offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but the following examples should inspire manufacturers to find one that is appropriate for their unique situation and goals.
Cannabis Flower Packaging. Customized smell-proof containers can make a remarkable impact on the marketing success of cannabis flower. Some cultivators are using child-resistant containers made of customized wood, glass, or even metal to distinguish their products from the competition. These containers must also offer ideal moisture and lighting conditions to protect the product’s shelf life.
Vaporizer and Extract Packaging. Vape and extract packaging solutions offer significantly greater opportunities for branding and design innovation. Experiential packaging is becoming a greater part of the vape consumer’s journey, offering brands new ways to communicate with their customers, often through the lens of luxury packaging and quality.
Edibles Packaging. The edibles industry is one of the most important when it comes to childproof packaging. Children can be remarkably resourceful in obtaining what they think is chocolate or candy, and brands like CRATIV are engineering solutions that serve to minimize the risk of accidental ingestion.
Concentrate Packaging. Many concentrate packaging providers are taking their aesthetic cues from the cosmetics industry. Custom-molded, childproof containers are a must when packaging products like hash, wax, crumble, and shatter, which are difficult to manage in ordinary pharmaceutical containers or bags.
State-by-State Packaging and Labeling Law Overview
Packaging laws vary widely by state and tend to differ between flower, vaporizer, edible, and concentrate products. The following list of packaging and labeling regulations illustrates some of the differences in packaging laws between US states:
(The rules that apply to flower packaging generally also apply to vaporizer extracts, edibles, and concentrates, except where specific differences are noted.)
Alaska requires all cannabis products to be packaged in an opaque and child-resistant container with a label disclosing the amount of THC present. The following boilerplate statements must be visible as well:
“Marijuana has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming and addictive. Marijuana impairs concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under its influence. There are health risks associated with consumption of marijuana. For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of the reach of children. Marijuana should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.”
Flower packaging must be resealable. It must estimate the total amount of THC in the product per gram and display the net weight of flower in the package.
Vaporizer extract packaging only needs to be resealable if the product itself is intended for multiple uses.
Edible packaging must report the amount of THC in a single dose and total amount included (up to 50 milligrams). There is no need to list product ingredients, but there must be an expiry date.
Concentrate packaging must be opaque, resealable, and child-resistant. It must identify the dispensary and manufacturer by logo and license number.
Arizona requires cannabis manufacturers to issue the following boilerplate warning:
“Marijuana use can be addictive and can impair an individual’s ability to drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery. Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and can lead to an increased risk for cancer, tachycardia, hypertension, heart attack, and lung infection. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN”
Flower packaging must state where the marijuana was cultivated and how the dispensary obtained it as well as the amount, strain, and corresponding batch number.
Vaporizer extract packaging must include a list of all chemical additives used in the manufacture of the product.
Edible packaging must include the total weight of the edible food product and the corresponding amount of THC present.
Concentrate packaging must specify the amount, strain, and batch number of the marijuana used in its manufacture.
California law requires cannabis products prominently display the following boilerplate statement on childproof packaging:
“Government warning: This product contains cannabis, a Schedule I controlled substance. Keep out of reach of children and animals. Cannabis products may only be possessed or consumed by persons 21 years of age or older unless the person is a qualified patient. The intoxicating effects of cannabis products may be delayed up to two hours. Cannabis use while pregnant or breastfeeding may be harmful. Consumption of cannabis products impairs your ability to drive and operate machinery. Please use extreme caution.”
Flower packaging must specify the common name of the cannabis strain in California and the THC concentration of the particular batch. Flower packaging must be resealable.
Vaporizer extract must be packaged in a container less than two fluid ounces in weight, with a calibrated dropper capable of accurately measuring servings.
Edible packaging cannot imitate the packaging used for non-cannabis food products and must indicate how many servings the product contains as well as nutritional data.
Concentrate packaging must specify the strain and batch number of the marijuana used, contain a list of ingredients and indicate how many servings of THC are present.
Colorado requires all packaging to prominently display the universal symbol for THC-containing products. The state specifies the following boilerplate message for its cannabis products:
“There may be health risks associated with the consumption of this product. Marijuana has intoxicating effects. Driving under the influence of marijuana is against the law.”
Flower packaging must be opaque and child-resistant.
Vaporizer extract must be opaque and child-resistant.
Edible packaging cannot imitate existing food products or be appealing to children. Nutritional data and expiry date information must be included.
Concentrate packaging must specify the amount of THC in each serving and be suitably childproof.
Marijuana products in Maine must identify the cultivation facility responsible for growing and harvesting the marijuana used to create the product as well as the net weight and volume of the product.
Flower packaging must be child-resistant and feature no characters, designs, or imagery that might be appealing to minors.
Vaporizer extract packaging must be child-resistant and display a list of all potential allergens included in the product.
Edible packaging cannot imitate commercially sold food products and must list all nutritional information, including potential allergens, in a clearly readable font.
Concentrate packaging must specify the amount of THC in each serving and be suitably childproof.
Maryland requires cannabis manufacturers to package their products in plain, opaque, child-resistant packages that clearly state the following warnings:
“The contents may be lawfully consumed only be the qualifying patient named on the attached label. It is illegal for any person other than the qualifying patients to possess or consume the contents of this package. It is illegal to transfer the contents of this package to any person other than the caregiver of a qualifying patient. Keep away from children. In case of accidental ingestion call the Maryland Poison Control Center (800) 222-1222.”
Flower packaging must display the name, strength, and weight of the dried cannabis bud it contains.
Vaporizer extract packaging must include the name of the strain used and the strength of the dosage, as well as directions for safe usage.
Edible packaging must not look like any commercially available food products and must contain comprehensive dosage information.
Concentrate packaging must display all cannabinoid and terpene ingredients and their relative concentrations.
Massachusetts requires cannabis manufacturers to use plain, opaque containers that are childproof and display the following statement:
“This product may cause impairment and may be habit forming. Marijuana impairs concentration, coordination, and judgement. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product. For use only by adults 21 years of age. Keep out of the reach of children. Marijuana should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.”
Flower packaging should be child-resistant and resealable. These packages may not be brightly colored or feature any marketing images potentially attractive to minors.
Vaporizer extract packaging must specify the amount of THC in a single serving, which must be less than five milligrams.
Edible packaging may not imitate commercial food products and must specify the serving size, number of servings, and dosage of each portion.
Concentrate packaging must specify dosage information and warn customers that it contains multiple servings.
In Michigan, marijuana products must display a universal THC symbol alongside the cultivator’s ID number and the relative concentration of THC in the product. The following boilerplate text must be present as well:
“For use by registered qualifying patients only. Keep out of reach of children. It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. National Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222”
Flower packaging must specify the name of the strain, the date of harvest, and the net weight of the product contained.
Vaporizer extract must specify the name and license information of the manufacturer that created the product, as well as safety compliance testing data.
There are no strict formal packaging requirements for edibles in Michigan, but business, dosage, and nutritional information should be readily visible.
Concentrate packaging must include the batch number, dosage information, and business licensing data.
As of June 2019, Montana’s medical marijuana program has not yet stipulated specific packaging requirements beyond the following for all flower, extract, edible, and concentrate products:
THC and CBD concentrations must be prominently displayed.
Labels and packages must not be attractive to minors.
Packaging graphics may not depict celebrities, minors, or images commonly associated with minors.
Packaging may not resemble the packaging for non-cannabis commercial products.
Other than these guidelines, there are no other stipulations mentioned in Montana law as of June 2019.
Nevada’s cannabis packaging legislation is strict and highly specific. The state goes so far as to specify the thickness of plastic marijuana containers. The following boilerplate copy must be visible on all packaging:
“Warning: This product may have intoxicating effects and may be habit-forming. Smoking is hazardous to your health. There may be health risks associated with the consumption of this product. Should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. For use only by the person named on the label of the dispensed product. Keep out of the reach of children. Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgement. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.”
Flower packaging must be child-resistant, contaminant-free, and contain the batch control number from the original plant along with the harvest date, strain type, lot number, testing date, expiration date, potency, and quantity sold.
Vaporizer extracts must be sealed using a metal crown cork-style bottle cap. Plastic containers holding marijuana-infused liquids must be at least 4 millimeters thick.
Edible products must include THC concentration potency, testing data, and production, packaging, and expiration dates as well as a list of ingredients and potential allergens.
Concentrates must contain all of the same batch control and production information as flower while also explaining the extraction process used.
Oklahoma requires all marijuana products to note the name and address of the manufacturer alongside an official batch lot number and the net quantity of the contents. The following boilerplate text is mandatory:
“Keep out of reach of children. Women should not use marijuana or medical marijuana products during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. For accidental ingestion call 1-800-222-1222”
Flower packaging must be child-resistant and contain a principal display panel that offers the name, weight, and type of marijuana product as well as the THC dosage in milligrams per unit.
Vaporizer extracts follow the same rules as flower packaging, with the addition of instructions for how to safely use the product.
Edible packaging must not contain graphics that appeal to minors. Edibles must contain a complete ingredients list as well as food allergen information and nutrition labeling.
Concentrates must include instructions on how to safely use the product in a medical setting.
Oregon requires cannabis packaging to display the following symbol for THC-containing products:
Additionally, Oregon-based manufacturers must notify users if pesticides were used on the plants, and they must feature the following boilerplate text:
“Marijuana has intoxicating effects. It is against the law to drive while intoxicated. For use by adults 21 or older. Keep out of reach of children. This product is not approved by the FDA to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Flower packaging must indicate the net weight and (if it is different, like in pre-rolls) the weight of usable marijuana in the container.
Vaporizer extracts must disclose all of the relevant batch information from the specific marijuana plant used to manufacture the product as well as THC potency.
Edibles must disclose the serving size and number of servings included, with an upper limit of 50 milligrams. Edibles must also include nutritional data and the expiration date.
Concentrates need to indicate whether they contain any ingredients that are not marijuana-derived.
Washington requires marijuana product manufacturers to disclose the use of pesticides on the original plants and identify how many 10-milligram serving sizes the product contains. The following boilerplate text is required:
“Marijuana has intoxicating effects. It is against the law to drive while intoxicated. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product. This product contains marijuana. This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit-forming. Should not be used by women that are pregnant or breastfeeding. For use only by adults twenty-one or older. Keep out of reach of children.”
Flower packaging must be tamperproof, non-reactive, and child-resistant. The label must contain the concentration of THC, the weight of the product, and batch number disclosure. Additionally, the boilerplate text must inform consumers that “smoking is hazardous to your health.”
Vaporizer extracts must be packaged in a tamper-proof plastic container more than 4 millimeters thick.
Edible packaging cannot resemble commercially available food products nor look appealing to children. Edibles must list an expiry date, product ingredients, and the following boilerplate text: “Consumer may not feel the effects of THC intoxicant until 2 hours or more after consumption of product.”
Concentrate packaging must define the dosage, potency, and net weight of the contents as well as the extraction process used, plus the following warnings: “This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit-forming. This product may be unlawful outside Washington state.”
Collaboration and Branding Opportunities
One of the most important things for cannabis manufacturers to realize is that they aren’t in this alone. Cannabis packaging companies are working with product developers, cannabis industry designers, and compliance consultants to offer solutions that maximize the viability of their products across state markets.
Manufacturers who are serious about opening up markets across multiple states will need to rely on customizable packaging and flexible delivery options. Third-party vendors often offer the most cost-effective options for obtaining these results in a scalable way while minimizing risk.