As cannabis is gradually legalized for both medical and recreational uses across the country, product manufacturers face increasingly strict regulations on both the state and local levels.
These overarching regulations are designed to keep consumers and others who may encounter cannabis products safe. Children have been a particular focus of safety regulations regarding marijuana, in part because many cannabis-infused products bear a resemblance to sweet treats and other food products consumed by children.
The risk of a child mistaking a cannabis product for a treat they enjoy has been a primary concern of regulators from day one. Cannabis can be extremely dangerous for children to consume: the drug’s effects can be more severe and prolonged in children, and accidental ingestion is most common with edibles, which often contain a very high concentration of cannabis. Accidental ingestion by children has been associated with serious medical consequences, including comas or in very rare circumstances, possibly death.
Laws and codes differ between states and it is up to the growers, extractors and product manufacturers to understand and comply with the regulations governing the packaging of their products, including which specific products need child-resistant functionality.
Colorado, for example, requires that packaging:
– Must be tested and certified to the federal child-resistant test (16 CFR § 1700.20);
– Must be opaque (non-see-through); and
– If a single product contains multiple servings, such as a chocolate bar with five 10-milligram THC servings, the package must be resealable.
Cannabis companies should understand the state regulations for each type of product they are manufacturing. For example, oils and distillates may be packaged in jars with a child-resistant cap that requires simultaneous downward pressure and counterclockwise rotation to open. In these cases, the folding outer carton (secondary package) usually would not need to be child-resistant because the primary packaging (the jar) has the child-resistant feature. In the case of an infused chocolate bar, the wrapping of the bar is not child-resistant and therefore the outer carton (secondary package) would need to be.
Warning labels are required for a variety of controlled products, including cannabis. Specific symbols and written messages have been developed to warn potential consumers of risks, including choking hazards, potential poisoning and other dangers. Regulations vary significantly between jurisdictions, but some cannabis packaging may be required to include information such as strain type, THC concentration levels, dosage information, pesticides used and more.
The difficulty with meeting these requirements is that labeling can and often does interfere with branding and the overall image of the carton or product. Branding is incredibly important in the emerging market of cannabis products, so growers, extractors and edible manufacturers must find a way to meet new and constantly changing labeling requirements without compromising brand recognition. Collaborating early with an experienced packaging supplier is essential to help balance the labeling requirements with the optimal branding that is so important in the early days of establishing a loyal customer base.
The Packaging Trifecta
Achieving the trifecta of style, differentiation and child-resistant functionality is not easy.
Here are some general tips for maximizing style:
– Choose a child-resistant solution that is as discreet as possible. There are plenty of options available that meet applicable child-resistant packaging requirements.
– Choose a child-resistant solution for your folding carton that supports your brand. Many child-resistant folding carton solutions today are very utilitarian. While they may work, the wrong one can detract from your brand.
– Research all the solutions in the market and demand a carton with child-resistant functionality that provides elegance, a great user experience and is commensurate with your brand.
– Use packaging to stand out from the crowd. In an emerging market like the cannabis industry, it is particularly vital for your brand to stand out from the crowd to stay competitive. Since industry leaders and trusted brands have not yet been firmly established, you want a potential customer’s eyes to be drawn to your product on the retail shelf.
Every new packaging regulation introduces another element of “sameness,” something that will be included on every brand and product, so it’s up to you to introduce new packaging innovations to continue to stand out. Structural innovations, print and finishing techniques and clear plastic windows are just a few of the things that can be used to elegantly showcase your product and its primary packaging. A distinct scheme of colors, shapes and textures can make your product easily recognizable for loyal customers.
Regulations on the cannabis industry are constantly changing as lawmakers decide how to best keep consumers and children safe in a world of legal marijuana use. Packaging regulations may not always seem to be doing your brand a favor, but developing an innovative and unique packaging design can play a vital role in staying compliant without sacrificing an aesthetic appeal.
Michael DiFranco is the vice president of marketing JohnsByrne Company, a custom packaging and print solutions provider that has partnered with major brands in health and beauty, food and beverage and consumer products since 1959.