The buzz (or no buzz) about cannabis packaging

There has never been more of a demand for packaging solutions for the fragmented and divisive cannabis market. The market can be broken up into two major components — THC-based products promising some kind of buzz, and non-THC products based on extracted CBD processed from hemp. With the rapid growth of this industry, cultivators, processors and packagers alike are all looking toward a future of automated operations to meet demand as they are working to meet challenges such as specific regulations for labeling and packaging.


THC (buzz)

THC remains controversial, despite a growing number of states allowing both medicinal and recreational cannabis. Cannabis-infused beverages and foods remain illegal from the Food and Drug Administration’s viewpoint — for now — but the agency admits it cannot police the flood of new companies and brands. The FDA can only pay attention when problems rise to the surface; the recent vaping crisis a perfect example.

Edible cannabis poses particular problems as child-resistant reclosable options are hard to find, expensive or don’t align with sustainability goals. Many industry experts predict beer, wine and spirits companies will get involved with low-dose cannabis social drinks due to the recent “mindful drinking” movement resulting in declining beer sales.

Packaging for cannabis products commonly draws from popular categories like carbonated beverages, baked goods, confectionery, etc.

Flower can be packaged with pre-rolled joints in cheap, colorful plastic tubes or in larger amounts coming in beautiful glass jars and modified atmosphere metal cans. Since edibles now span just about every type of snack food and beverage imaginable, the packaging formats they come in are just as varied and diverse: conventional glass, plastic jars, flexible pouches, aluminum bottles and other innovative packaging. Some of these boast fantastic digital graphics. For concentrates, small cups are the preferred packaging format. Many of these cups have child-resistant caps and come in a secondary covering such as a paperboard box.

The medical cannabis market may have slightly different packaging needs. In some dispensaries, the standard push-and-twist amber pill bottle ubiquitous in the pharmaceutical industry is a popular format, as branding and shelf appeal are less of a concern. In a move toward sustainability, medical cannabis packagers are exploring flexible pouches and bags made from environmentally friendly materials.

CBD (no buzz)

CBD comes in a variety of sophisticated, branded packaging with cues from the beauty, health and food markets. Celebrity endorsements abound, especially sports professionals who use CBD for pain relief. Glass vials with droppers are popular (often requiring outer cartons), as are jars, bottles, pumps, tubes and test tubes.

Like the vitamin and nutritional supplement market, CBD oil can make broad claims about overall health but must be careful not to make specific claims about outcomes.

Recent announcements from major retailers who will carry CBD products really put CBD and CBD education in the spotlight. Young and old consumers uncertain of the origins or reliability of products sold on the web will see lotions, cosmetics or oils in the same store where they get their prescriptions filled.


Common statewide packaging guidelines for cannabis products include child-resistant closures and reclosure, a clear indication and warning of cannabis content, ingredient list of cannabinoid concentrations per serving and suggest dosage and use guidelines.

The uncertain regulatory landscape in each state has thwarted some operations from scaling up in multiple states. General trends in nutrition, driven by both millennials and boomers, see people taking their health into their own hands with diet, exercise and mindfulness — which bodes well for the cannabis market. Cannabis packaging companies must forge new ground and innovative new solutions for an industry where few shared standards for packaging exist.


Maria Ferrante is a senior director of marketing and communications at PMMI, which is producing Pack Expo East on March 3-5 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. The three-day event will feature more than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space with 400 companies showcasing new technologies.


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