Cannabis sales are capturing the full attention of packaging industry

As more states legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, the formats in use continue to expand from cannabis as a flower/bud into more processed forms like oils, edibles and topical products. This provides an opportunity for ancillary businesses like packaging to grow and expand within the industry, according to Here to Stay or Up in Smoke: A Look at the U.S. Cannabis Market. Produced by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, the white paper currently estimates the cannabis packaging market at less than one percent of industry sales at $15 million. Experts believe however that packaging growth may eclipse the overall cannabis market as legalization spreads to more states, packaging becomes more regulated and cannabis brands move towards higher-end and more customized packaging options.

When sales were under $5 billion, most packaging companies were not willing to invest in creating products specifically for the cannabis industry, preferring instead to borrow and adapt packaging products from other sectors such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Now, however, with cannabis sales approaching $10 billion, firms are finding it worthwhile to develop products specifically designed for the unique needs of cannabis companies.

As the industry establishes its foothold, cannabis brands are starting to use packaging to differentiate themselves from competitors. Gone are the days of selling cannabis in clear plastic packaging with ink-jet printed labels. Now, spending is rapidly increasing on high-end packaging options, with the marijuana providers believing like their counterparts in other markets that packaging can help differentiate products and attract more affluent consumers. To achieve this goal, brands have been moving towards higher-end packaging that resembles items seen at a high-end grocery store, pharmacy or spa. However, cannabis companies’ branding efforts are often undermined by not being able to trademark their brand – the U.S. Trademark Office denies trademark protection to any brands selling cannabis, making it difficult to establish brand identity.

Higher-quality domestic packaging materials are also beginning to replace more cost-efficient materials from China and overseas. These include cardboard tubes for cannabis flowers that can be encased in a full-color foil wrap or printed on directly and used with embossed labels for a more craft appearance. Also popular are opaque bottles for liquid edibles (as many states require opaque packaging), aluminum or colored plastics. Pop-cap bottles are becoming increasingly trendy for edibles offering “old-timey apothecary feel.”

From a packaging industry innovation standpoint, child-proof packaging leads the way. Some companies are experimenting with containers that have combination locks that are web-enabled and connected to physician’s offices. This innovation has implications for the pharmaceutical industry as well.

No event in North America in 2018 offers the most diverse collection of packaging innovation to meet the needs of the cannabis industry than PACK EXPO International 2018 and the co-located Healthcare Packaging EXPO (Oct. 14-17, 2018; McCormick Place, Chicago). Owned and produced by PMMI, the show convenes more than 2,500 exhibitors and 50,000 attendees, offering opportunities to view technologies that could cross-pollinate into cannabis packaging. In addition to aisles of solutions, cannabis professionals will have access to free, on-floor educational sessions at three different Innovation Stage locations.

To register and learn more, visit


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