Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group (and prominent supporter of cannabis legalization), once said the following: “Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual reinvention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination.” He wasn’t talking about any specific field at the time, but his words ring especially true for cannabis entrepreneurs across the country. In an industry with an explosive number of new businesses, a vast spectrum of customer expectations, and regulations that are constantly in flux, creating packaging that is both memorable and legally compliant can be a steep challenge.
Nationwide, a primary concern has been to ensure that young children cannot accidentally access cannabis products once they have been purchased by adult consumers. In Colorado and California, products must be sold in opaque, child-resistant containers (or be placed in an “exit bag” that meets these requirements), and in Oregon, containers must be sourced from an Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC)-approved list. This original idea has since expanded to include regulations regarding product names and logos that might appear attractive to anyone under 21. Beginning in October 2018, products sold in Colorado will be prohibited from including the words “candy” or “candies” in their titles, and in Oregon, product names that are associated with items or entertainment commonly marketed to children (i.e. existing comic book characters, toys, etc.) have been banned by the state. In California, the packaging itself cannot resemble existing candy packaging or labeling. All three states have intricate labeling laws that cover what must be disclosed about a package’s contents and how it must be presented to consumers -- in Colorado, a universal symbol for THC that looks similar to OSHA chemical hazard symbols, will be legally required starting later this year.
Still, in many ways, strict labeling restrictions have led to innovative solutions, especially among edibles companies. California-based company Kiva, for example, presents legally-mandated information in an artful way by integrating THC levels into the overall design of their chocolate bar packages. However, effective package design goes beyond just text and images. Supply companies like Sun Grown Packaging (SGP) have focused on redesigning the packaging materials themselves so that brands can have options that are both environmentally-friendly and child-resistant. These efforts have led SGP to develop the first entirely recyclable cannabis packaging and, along the way, win a Cannabist Award for sustainability. Still others are eschewing new development and are instead making use of existing inventions that were originally intended for sealing toxic household products, repurposing them for safe use in a cannabis context.
As industry standards and legal regulations alike continue to shift nationwide, cannabis entrepreneurs will need to continue to think imaginatively about presenting their products. However, embracing these external constraints means embracing the many fruitful possibilities that further experimentation can bring, both to companies across the country and the consumers themselves.