How Will New Cannabis Laws Impact Packaging Regulations?

How Will New Cannabis Laws Impact Packaging Regulations?

As of this writing, 11 US states permit adult recreational use of cannabis. These are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State. A further 21 states permit the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Things become a bit more complicated when we start talking about cannabidiol (CBD). While all of the 11 states mentioned above permit CBD derived from both marijuana and hemp, federal regulations – courtesy of the latest Farm Bill – only permit the production and sale of CBD derived from hemp (if and only if that hemp is produced by a licensed grower in accordance with state and federal regulations).

Cannabis Packaging Regulations Complicated By Tangled Web of Legality

Currently, information about the cannabis, hemp, and CBD industry is complex and becomes even more so due to the conflicting patchwork of state and federal regulations. In particular, one aspect of these regulations – packaging – seems to have more questions than answers. The subjects of these questions range from barrier protection and closures to labeling and transparency. These are the same questions that surround the packaging of all other products, except with the added uncertainty of whether or not the contents are – or will be – legal.

In the midst of all this uncertainty, reviewing some of the regulations influencing packaging where cannabis is legal may be helpful as a way to look forward to potential scenarios when additional states adjust their cannabis regulations.

How Will General Packaging Trends Influence Current & Future Cannabis Packaging Laws?

The convenience and performance advantages driving non-cannabis markets to transition from rigid to flexible containers seem likely to promote adoption in the cannabis market as well, contributing to demand growth in flexible packaging – an industry forecast to be worth $22.8 billion in 2023.

Flexible packaging is highly suited to meet the requirements for cannabis. Packaging regulations in the 11-state sample hone in on:

  • Child-resistance: This issue is consistently mentioned in regulations for all states with legal cannabis. State laws commonly mandate that packaging be significantly difficult for a child under 5 years old to access. In a few of these states, this requirement is satisfied by a child-resistant exit bag.
  • Opacity: Some of the states require opacity in cannabis product packaging to ensure the contents are not visible (and therefore cannot appeal to children in sight of the package). This requirement stands in stark opposition to the ongoing trend toward transparency in consumer packaging, which allows shoppers to survey the product mid-aisle. More of the states require opacity only for edible cannabis product packaging.
  • Labeling: Labeling requirements occupy significantly more space than packaging in the legal text covering cannabis products. While each state’s regulations contain their own nuances, labeling requirements generally focus on two issues – information and graphics.
    • Informational labels commonly require a license number, a batch number, potency information, weight, warning statements, and a universal symbol identifying the product as containing THC.
    • The laws concerning graphics almost universally prohibit cartoons or any other objects that might appeal to anyone under 21. Some even prohibit any graphics depicting the contents of the package.

Flexible Packaging Can Rise to the Challenge of Different Regulations by State

Of the states mentioned here, Nevada and Washington State have implemented the most specific laws regarding cannabis packaging. Both states mandate that cannabis products be packaged in packs that are at least 4 mils thick and heat-sealed, without an easy-open tab or similar device. Washington also requires products with multiple servings to be packaged individually within a larger container. Some states are also pushing for packages that offer odor barrier protection for cannabis products.

Ongoing innovation has ensured that flexible packaging is ready to meet these requirements. In 2017, about 18% of all pouches included a resealable feature, with an increasing number featuring child-resistant elements.

Stand-up pouches have also benefited from advancements in digital printing technology, which enables smaller runs of packaging and allows for quicker updates without changeover. This ability will be an advantage in the face of further alterations to labeling requirements.

Want to Learn More?

Regulations concerning cannabis products continue to evolve, but the example of these early adopters can provide some guidance to packaging professionals looking to plan for what might come next. And as the sample size continues to expand, packaging companies will evolve to meet new standards and challenges.

However, the fundamental role of packaging – protecting the contents – will always be the same, regardless of the product. For more information about cannabis packaging and other converted flexible packaging, check out Converted Flexible Packaging in the US, a recent study from The Freedonia Group.

About the Author:

C. Vernon Henry is an analyst at The Freedonia Group, where he writes studies focused on the packaging industry.

  Industry Studies      Packaging