Packaging ins and outs in the ever-growing Cannabis and CBD industries

Written by Mark McClure

As the cannabis and CBD industries continue their rise to the forefront of the American marketplace, emerging regulations around what the products are packaged in is quickly becoming a point of concern.

Data compiled by MjBizDaily showed the economic impact of marijuana is up 30% from 2020 and is expected to reach $92 billion this year. The industry is forecasted to exceed $160 billion in 2025.

With the sector’s wide array of products now exploding onto the shelves, incumbent companies and business models are beginning to feel the heat. Concerns around clear labeling, childproofing and sustainability are growing issues, while the big candy companies are complaining about packaging confusion.

Lisa Buffo, founder and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association, said “packaging is a critical touch point with the cannabis consumer.”

“It’s the first step they take when physically interacting with the product,” she said. “What information is displayed on the packaging? Is it something the consumer can read and understand? Will that information change how they engage with the product and further their understanding of what’s in it?”

A recent report published by Grand View Research, Inc. showed increased legalization and a growing demand for medical and recreational cannabis across the world has the legal marijuana market size expecting to reach $73.6 billion by 2027.

More than 60% of cannabis consumers surveyed by the Brightfield Group indicated a preference for labels outlining a product’s THC content and strain type (indica, sativa, hybrid), while almost 50% said they wanted a list of ingredients too.


Here are the current concerns related to cannabis and CDB packaging.

Clear labeling/milligrams per dose

Unfortunately, product labeling information requirements range considerably in each U.S. state. While every state required delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol content and manufacturer contact information, only 80% of states required the batch number, health risks, production tracking, a cannabis symbol, cannabidiol content, children disclaimer and an impairment disclaimer.

Patricia Miller, managing editor of Cannabis & Tech Today, said, “most cannabis products are under strict regulatory oversight, but without a certificate of analysis, consumers have no way of knowing what they’re consuming or in what quantity.”

In addition, “many of the testing facilities had to create their own methods for testing, and the result is variability from lab to lab,” she said.

In CBD products, basic labeling requirements include Scannable Bar Code or QR Code to pick up the batch identification number more easily, product name, batch date and size, expiration date, total quantity produced, ingredients, or certificate of analysis.  Product requirements also include an FDA warning statement, no medical or health claims.

Keep out of reach from children

Because there are so many varying standards for cannabis packaging, the New York Times reported the big candy companies are upset over lookalike THC treats. According to the article, Wrigley’s and others are protecting not only their brands, but your kids.

In fact, the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., owned by Mars Inc., filed lawsuits in May against five companies for selling cannabis-infused edibles that look like Skittles, Starburst and Life Savers.

While incumbent product manufacturers voice concerns over similar packaging, Miller said some cannabis companies are not happy with the childproof packaging requirement because alcohol brands are not packaged in childproof containers, and it has the potential for lethal overdose.

“Childproofing is largely a byproduct of the enduring stigma around cannabis,” she continued. “But these regulations help people feel more comfortable having cannabis products in their home, so ultimately, they’re good for the industry.”

According to the Child Mind Institute, not only are adults experimenting with CBD for whatever is bothering them, increasingly parents are turning to CBD to help their kids focus, sleep, calm down, and more.


What the box looks like?

No one needs to tell you the usual cannabis products being packaged are time sensitive. Not only that, but the brands also want room on the package to market their product.

In addition to light, UV rays, moisture and gases potentially ruining the product inside, Miller said cannabinoid-infused beverages still struggle to create formulations that won’t leak the active ingredients into the packaging and become inert.

While the freshness and shelf-stability of cannabis products are always a concern, the brand’s ability to market the product is also hampered by the demands for regulations and childproofing copy.

Buffo said because they are required to use child-resistant packaging and put labels with product information and health warnings, “it often leaves little to no room for branding, consumer education or design innovation.”

“Brands must get creative to improve the customer experience and how they communicate with their customers when space on the packaging is limited,” she continued. “Additionally, products are often behind the counters and only handed to the customer once they’ve been purchased, so there’s no touching or reading during the shopping experience.”

On the CBD side of things, cosmetic and personal care products have enjoyed incredible traction among consumers in a relatively short amount of time, consequently giving rise to a noticeable packaging evolution, according to Beauty Packaging.


Green or not to be green

Much like many other sectors in the global market, single-use plastic products have become a hurdle for packaging in the cannabis industry. Although their use became a popular alternative during the COVID-19 pandemic, single-use plastic bags are on the way out as sustainability worries rise to the surface once again.

Miller said the biggest issue facing the cannabis industry is waste.

“While regulations around childproofing and traceability have created a monster from RFID tags to individual pre-roll tubes, single-use plastics are an environmental interest.”

Moving forward, industry experts believe the government and industry must align on what’s appropriate and necessary packaging to improve the process for brands, customers, and the environment.

From both a Cannabis and CBD packaging perspective, companies should consider if the materials are naturally sourced, if they biodegrade, are they recyclable, and how much energy will be required to recycle?

In addition, are the materials multi-use or single use in design, do they contain added chemicals with health dangers, and does the company itself get involved in sustainability?

Not only that, CBD and cannabis products packaged in paper that are made from cannabis-based materials will also improve sustainability.


 About the Author:

Mark McClure is the vice president of operations at flexible packaging company International Plastics in Greenville, S.C.


About the author

Mark McClure