Beyond baggies: How to read modern marijuana packaging

Apothecarium Marina
Menus for The Apothecarium in San Francisco, CA. can be a whirlwind of information. | Photo byLiz Hafalia.

More than 25 million Californians — plus millions more visitors — can enter California’s 250-plus recreational cannabis dispensaries now that commercial sales have begun in 2018.

But how many shoppers actually know how to read a product label and take marijuana safely?

With legalization has come detailed labeling standards, introduced Jan. 1 by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, which also handles enforcement. Even fewer customers can interpret a marijuana label than can a standard food label, we imagine. It’s a disturbing thought. And while no one has died from a marijuana overdose, plenty of people have felt the adverse effects of overdoing it.

Here’s some basic marijuana product label information, so you can have a good time, instead of an unpleasant one.

Marijuana packaging: The label for these mini pre-rolls shows they're high in CBD. | Photo by David Downs
The label for these mini pre-rolls shows they’re high in CBD. | Photo by David Downs


“15% THC”: The most common marijuana product sold is dried, cured flower buds, called simply “flower.” Flower ranges in potency from about 5 to 25 percent THC. Think of it like the alcohol percentage on a beer bottle. When it comes to THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, up to 8 percent is considered mild, 8 percent to 16 percent is medium strength, and 16 percent and above is for experts only.

“5% CBD”: Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most common active ingredient in cannabis. It does not cause euphoria, or a high, but can in moderate doses lessen anxiety in some people, as well as treat pain, inflammation and spasms. CBD also dampens the high of THC. If you’re new to cannabis, look for strains high in CBD, anything over a few percent.


“100 milligrams THC”: The second most popular class of cannabis products is infused foods. Their potency is measured in milligrams of THC. One standard dose is 10 milligrams. Those new to cannabis should start with 2.5 milligrams. It can take 90 minutes for edibles to take effect.

“Sativa”: Cannabis comes in three main types: sativas, indicas and hybrids. Generally sativas will keep you up at night, indicas will put you to sleep, and hybrids fall somewhere in the middle.

“1:1 THC:CBD”: Many times you’ll see the amount of THC and CBD also expressed in a ratio. The higher the ratio of THC to CBD, the more high the product will make you.

“Best by 04/20/18”: Hey, look, an expiration date! Look for an expiration date on all your cannabis products.

Marijuana packaging: Atlas edibles' Nimbus label details the type of source cannabis, effects, and cannabinoids per serving. | Photo by David Downs
Atlas edibles’ Nimbus label details the type of source cannabis, effects, and cannabinoids per serving. | Photo by David Downs

Nutrition Facts: Pretty self explanatory. Pay attention to serving size and number of “servings” in a package.

Ingredients: Again, self-explanatory. Watch out for allergens.


Proposition 65 Warning: Another quirk of living in California, where seemingly everything that could potentially cause cancer has to carry a label.

“This product has not been tested as required by the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act”: An interim warning California regulators require on all packages while they erect the state’s lab-testing process. By summer, all products sold at retail stores with annual licenses must be lab-tested.

“Keep out of reach of children and pets”: Treat cannabis like the drug it is and keep it locked up and out of reach of anyone you don’t want consuming it.

“Do not operate heavy machinery”: Cannabis can affect your sense of balance, time, reaction time and judgment. It’s illegal to operate any vehicle under the influence of any drug in California.

Find more in-depth explanations of choice cannabis topics at GreenState Explained.

Cannabis Editor |? | San Francisco Chronicle. Award-winning journalist. Best-selling author.