The problem with cannabis packaging
Cannabis packaging laws are extensive and, like all cannabis regulations, vary by state. Regulators create these laws with public safety in mind, some of which, like ensuring packaging is child-resistant, are common in every state.
But these same regulations can cause issues for consumers navigating a dispensary product menu. Some with reduced mobility may find themselves at home with no way to open their products. Others with a compromised immune system could be at risk buying flower with labels lacking relevant information. These cannabis packaging issues plague the cannabis industry in multiple states.
Cannabis packaging not accessible for all?
Many companies package their flower, edibles, and sometimes extract containers in sealed mylar bags. A consumer must open mylar bags by ripping the top off, grasping the corner, and pulling. It wasn’t until I was budtending and met a patient with rheumatoid arthritis in her hands that I realized what a challenge this type of packaging could be for those with limited hand mobility.
At that time, multiple patients reported that they had to keep scissors with their cannabis accessories to open their flower or wax. After developing carpal tunnel during pregnancy that has persisted over the last two years, I see what they mean.
Ripping off the seal is difficult when my hands are numb, and it’s hard to reopen the package. Pushing down and spinning the lid of a child-resistant jar can also be difficult during a flare-up.
I approve of child-resistant packaging. But it is painfully ironic that patients seeking cannabis to alleviate symptoms from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis cannot access the products because the packaging inflames their condition.
Cannabis packaging can be hard to understand
In Washington state, producers do not have to label packaging with legal pesticides used to grow the product. Labels are barred from including false or misleading information, depicting or appealing to children, making claims about therapeutic effects, or promoting overconsumption. Washington brands must relay the cannabinoid content and the producer license number on labels, and in the case of edibles, the milligram amount included in the package and per dose.
Due to this lack of regulatory oversight, companies often opt to solely include cannabinoid content and strain names on their packaging–omitting legal pesticides or other cultivation methods relevant to conscious consumers or immune-compromised medical patients.
The law does dictate that a retail dispensary must have a testing Certificate of Analysis (COA), a detailed list of verified results from a certified cannabis testing lab, available for consumers who ask. But many don’t know they are available or don’t know how to read a COA. This example in Washington is one drop in the bucket of cannabis product labeling in the U.S., where pesticide-related issues like product recalls plague cannabis commerce.
The grave issue of cannabis waste
It makes me quite sad to see joint tubes and mylar bags littering the streets of my seaside Washington town, but that is what I’ve witnessed since moving here in 2017. Regulations necessitate over-packaged products. One container could be in additional bags or boxes to meet regulations about opacity or child resistance, and many of the containers end up in landfills.
When I was a budtender at medical dispensaries, there weren’t a lot of consumer packaged goods outside of single-serve edibles, and patients were allowed to bring in jars that we would fill with flowers. This model could reduce packaging waste now seen in adult-use states like California and Illinois, but retail dispensaries can not wholesale flower by the pound. In Oregon, budtenders still weigh flower for adult-use customers rather than sell packaged grams, eighths, and quarters.
Some states, like Vermont, have addressed this issue at the inception of adult-use regulations. For example, the first general rule for cannabis packaging in Vermont is that it is reusable and not made of plastic. In response, Vermont brands use jars instead of mylar bags and other wasteful options.
Though it feels bleak looking at a wall of mylar bags at the dispensary after washing and reusing a Ziploc bag at home for the fourth time, some companies are developing sustainable options. Sana Packaging makes its products from hemp-based plastic, reclaimed ocean-bound plastic, and “other innovative materials,” while companies like Elevate Packaging wholesale compliant compostable bags. There are sustainable cannabis packaging options, but with high taxes and a race to the lowest price per unit, many cannabis companies can’t afford the cost.
While cannabis regulations differ by state, the problems don’t. Many consumers navigate child-resistant packaging that may be hard to open if you have low hand mobility, and many people don’t know how to read a COA. Additionally, increased waste from cannabis products continues to plague the industry. Though states are dealing with the same issues, there is no one solution, but awareness is a start.