As the cannabis industry grows and the category becomes increasingly crowded, package design is more important than ever. Impactful and meaningful branding is key to getting noticed, differentiating from the competition, connecting with consumers and ultimately making the sale. Today’s cannabis labels are more varied than ever before. They can be fun or luxurious, contemporary or retro, colorful or simplistic. Many brands are moving beyond traditional cannabis leaves to more unique, modern, and unexpected interpretations of cannabis plants. Others are forgoing leaf imagery altogether in favor of more evocative graphics, minimal design or mainstream motifs.
While there is no one-size-fits-all design for cannabis packaging, there are many regulatory requirements and branding best practices to consider. We’ve outlined some critical things to keep in mind before starting your cannabis package design.
Know Your Target Audience
There are a variety of cannabis users, each with unique needs, interests and attitudes. Understanding who you’re targeting is essential in determining the appropriate brand design strategy. Graphics for millennials will look different than those for baby boomers. But demographics aren’t the only thing to consider when identifying your target consumer. Euromonitor International has identified several lifestyle and personality-driven consumers segments:
Seasoned Consumer – consistent, daily consumer who defies stereotypes and often consider themselves connoisseurs.
Casual Social – regular but not daily consumer who uses cannabis as part of their broader lifestyle.
Dabbler – occasional user who is familiar and comfortable with cannabis but unlikely to use it regularly.
Cannacurious – consumer who is interested in cannabis and demonstrates an openness to using it.
Understanding the motivations of various consumer groups and looking beyond stereotypes or traditional age- and gender-driven demographics can help reach consumers in a more targeted, authentic, and compelling way.
Have a Unique Brand Personality
Design often provides the first impression for a brand, especially in the cannabis category. The first step in developing a winning package design is to determine the best design strategy to differentiate from the competition, communicate your brand story and connect with consumers. Start by thinking about what personality fits your brand, what kind of experience you want to create and what emotions you want to evoke. Do you want to feel healthy and medicinal? Earthy and natural? Sophisticated? Whimsical? Each personality inspires different design solutions. The designers at Studio One Eleven, the Design & Innovation Division of Berlin Packaging, begin each branding project by developing design platform boards that showcase different ways to communicate the brand personality through design, including color, typography, imagery, and more. These platform boards are a great tool to gain alignment on the most effective and appropriate design strategy before digging into tactical design approaches. They can also help guide brand design across other touchpoints, including digital, social media, and advertising.
Understand Regulatory Requirements
Packaging in the cannabis and CBD industries is heavily regulated. In addition to attracting consumers, your package must comply with local, state and federal regulations. Some states mandate that cannabis packaging can’t appeal to children – so no cartoon images or graphics that resemble familiar candy brands. The FDA prohibits cannabis products from making health-related claims, so it is essential to carefully assess the language used on packaging. Vital information such as ingredients, warnings, health risks, impairment of abilities, proper dosage, batch number and more must be included on cannabis labels.
These are just a few of the package design requirements to consider. Regulations can vary from state to state, so finding a packaging partner who understands the complex and constantly change rules is critical. Berlin Packaging has been a trusted resource for cannabis packaging since 2014. We are uniquely positioned to help cannabis and CBD companies of all sizes in the fast-paced, ever-changing cannabis industry.
Consider All Aspects of Your Package
Beyond graphics, tactile elements can be important to the overall brand design experience. Label material, thickness and texture, embossing and foil stamping, and die-cuts can create a premium impression and add visual interest. Structural design can also help differentiate from the competition and create an elevated user experience. How a package opens and closes, dispenses and doses, and protects and preserves the product inside are all essential considerations. Berlin Packaging has a vast network of manufacturers with hundreds of stock bottles, tins, jars, tubes and closures in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials to choose from, as well as custom solutions available through Studio One Eleven.
Understanding your target consumer, identifying and communicating a unique brand personality, complying with all regulatory requirements and taking a holistic approach will lead to impactful packaging that wins with consumers and grows your business.
Cannabis has been used to treat symptoms of cancer and chemotherapy including severe and chronic pain, nausea and vomiting. Many athletes also turn to cannabis for pain relief, incorporating cannabis into their pre- and post-workout routines. Though many states have legalized cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes, stigma still exists – even in legalized markets.
MSOs and brands will often employ a brand ambassador to help combat local stigma and gain traction within new markets. Trulieve, America’s largest cannabis multi-state operator with over 160 storefront locations, recently launched Momenta, an everyday wellness and overall well-being brand, in Massachusetts.
We interviewed Ethan Zohn, Brand Ambassador for Momenta, to learn more about his pathway to becoming a brand ambassador and how he incorporates cannabis into his running routines. Ethan is a former professional soccer player, Survivor: Africa winner, and two-time cancer survivor. Ethan is an active runner and incorporated cannabis into his training for the 2022 Boston Marathon. The interview was conducted on April 14, 2022.
Aaron Green: Ethan, tell me, how did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Ethan Zohn: My entry into the cannabis industry was through cancer, unfortunately. I rarely smoked marijuana growing up and later became a professional soccer player, so cannabis just wasn’t part of my daily life.
After being diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer in 2009, I found a lot of research on the benefits of cannabis mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy. At the time, I was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, where medical marijuana was not legal yet. This meant that none of my doctors could discuss incorporating cannabis into my treatment plan.
Having to resort to illegal methods just to obtain medicine was a horrible experience. At that time, I was very interested in changing minds and educating people about the benefits of cannabis, but it didn’t go particularly well. After initially having positive results from chemotherapy, I relapsed and had to go through it all over again.
That’s when I really leaned into cannabis and CBD. It just became a part of my daily routine and part of my wellness journey. So, that’s where I am now, leading into my partnership with Trulieve and Momenta.
Green: We don’t often hear the story of how a brand ambassador comes to be. How did you link up with Momenta?
Zohn: I was a keynote speaker at Boston Cannabis Week, and Trulieve was also attending the conference. I was already familiar with the brand based on their medical footprint in Florida and introduced myself to the team. During our conversation, I learned they were opening a new dispensary in Framingham, Massachusetts.
As I learned more about Trulieve, I grew to really love their passion and focus on research, patient education and providing quality products. From my experiences in the cannabis world, I just wasn’t seeing much of that. Trulieve was coming at it from a medical perspective, and that aligned more with where I stood. So, I pitched them this crazy idea, “Hey, why don’t I run the Boston Marathon on Momenta products?” From there, it took off as a campaign that included product launches, charity initiatives and even some celebrity support. I think it was a perfect combination of everyone coming together, and we’re all winning in this situation. I’m also running for Active Against Cancer because I support their mission to make exercise an integral part of cancer treatment.
Green: So, you had the sports background prior to cancer and then several years of treatment. What got you back into running?
Zohn: When I was diagnosed, I was training for the New York City Marathon and ended up not being able to run. Cooped up in my hospital room, I’d look out the window and I noticed people were just running up and down First Avenue. I said to myself, “Oh my God. If I get out of this thing alive, I’m going to run. I’m going to put on a pair of shoes. I’m going to break out of this cell and I’m going to just run the streets -and run with freedom.”
That’s when I really started running marathons. I ran my first marathon nine months after my first stem cell transplant. The second marathon was while I underwent chemotherapy. Eleven months after my second stem cell transplant, I ran in the 2013 Boston Marathon, which was the year of the bombing. Amidst that tragedy, I was celebrating one year in remission.
I’ve always measured my health and wellness based on how I felt while running. It might sound weird, but I know I’m in good shape if I can run a mile in seven minutes. If it takes me 10 minutes, I need to work out a little bit more. Measuring my life in terms of fitness has always made sense.
It’s a goal of mine to use sports as a platform to educate others on healthy lifestyles. I have a charity called Grassroots Soccer, where we use soccer to teach life lessons to kids. I’ve also worked with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in training for triathlons to raise cancer awareness.
There are still many people out there who think of cannabis as an illicit or gateway drug, and I feel a responsibility to challenge those dated stigmas. I feel fortunate to work with Trulieve and educate people on how cannabis can be integrated into anyone’s daily lifestyle as part of their wellness journey. Cannabis has so many applications in my own life and has helped with my insomnia, pain and anxiety. I’m hopeful that my advocacy work around this plant will help other people who are just as invested in their mental and physical health to find relief in more natural ways.
Green: What does your running regimen look like with cannabis and how did you develop that?
Zohn: Before, I always kept sports and cannabis separate. Integrating cannabis into my running routine was a slow process, and I still don’t take any high-dose products when I’m running. Before each race, I take a five-milligram Momenta capsule and take another dose around the hour and thirty minute mark.
People talk about athletes getting into the zone, and I feel like cannabis gets me into the zone quicker. I can lock in and stay laser-focused. Cannabis also plays a huge role in my recovery regimen. I like to use Momenta’s THC-infused creams and cooling gels that come in a variety of cannabinoid ratios.
Green: What makes Momenta products unique?
Zohn: Momenta is a great entry point for anyone looking to incorporate cannabis into their exercise routine or wellness journey. Trulieve started as a medical brand and its products reflect the company’s ongoing commitment to research and quality. I also tend to seek out consistent products, especially when I’m exercising. In my own experience, a gummy will sometimes be too potent, and other times I don’t feel anything. Momenta products, on the other hand, deliver the same experiences every time. I don’t want any surprises on race day or when I’m getting into a workout.
Green: What’s next for Momenta?
Zohn: Momenta recently launched in Massachusetts at three of Trulieve’s locations but I’m confident that it will quickly become a local favorite. The wellness brand is also available in Florida and West Virginia, and I can see Momenta gaining traction among other medical patients interested in supporting their holistic health. I’m excited to watch Momenta grow into a recognizable national brand as Trulieve continues to increase its retail footprint across the country.
Green: Final question: what in cannabis or in your personal life are you most interested in learning about?
Zohn: There needs to be more research on cannabis and how cannabinoids and terpenes impact the body from a health perspective. Federal legalization will be a gamechanger on the research front, and I hope more members of the medical community will study cannabis’ applications for different health concerns. I’m a cancer survivor. My nephew is autistic. I think there’s a lot more exciting research to come.
It’s refreshing to look at cannabis as a new industry growing from the ground up. Whether it’s branding, marketing or technology, people are trying to figure this all out! A lot of what I do influences how cannabis is perceived in society. How can we use cannabis to share messages and draw awareness to what’s happening in the world and the environment? I love seeing cannabis play a role in social issues.
I’m also interested in developing more constructive ways to educate and deter teens from using cannabis. I currently volunteer for the Safe Roots Foundation, which raises money from the cannabis industry and invests those resources into evidence-based teenage drug prevention programs. The industry plays an important role in reducing substance use among minors, and I’m proud to be a part of a movement that educates the youth on safe cannabis use while arming adults with accurate information.
Green: Okay, great thanks Ethan. That concludes the interview.
The cannabis retail market is very unique. What began as compassion clubs and wellness centers in the early days of legal cannabis, eventually morphed into dispensaries, quickly becoming the retail model that regulators around the country adopted and businesses implemented.
For most states with legal cannabis markets, the dispensary has been the only way for consumers to buy cannabis and cannabis products. Before the pandemic began, we started seeing a handful of states warm up to allowing delivery services. During the height of the pandemic, more states adopted curbside pickup, e-commerce in some shape or form and delivery services that finally expanded cannabis retail beyond the dispensary. Still though, regulations hamper commercial growth in the retail space and the dispensary remains, by far, the place where most people buy their cannabis.
When Jack Roosevelt, co-founder of LucidaClub, entered a dispensary back in 2019 in Massachusetts, he shared an experience all too common in the cannabis industry: An overwhelming number of options, jargon like sativa, indica and strain names that make no sense to the uninitiated, confusing product types and an all-around unpleasant shopping experience. Jack saw all those barriers to entry for the canna-curious or novice consumer and thought that there must be a better way to shop for cannabis.
So he started LucidaClub, a membership-based platform that is designed to guide and educate consumers with the advice of experts who can help people understand cannabis products and make the right purchase decision without all of the frustration and trial and error that is so common.
The name, Lucida, comes from a Latin phrase meaning the brightest star in a constellation. Jack and his co-founder, Lucinda, want their company to be the guiding star on your cannabis journey. LucidaClub isn’t just for the cannabis newbie; their in-house curator and team of experts can help any cannabis consumer find products to better fit their needs for sleep, wellness, relaxation, stress or just to have a good time. We sat down with Jack to chat about the cannabis retail market, what his company is all about and what the future of cannabis retail might look like.Jack Roosevelt will be speaking on the cannabis retail experience at the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo. Click here to learn more.
Cannabis Industry Journal: Tell us about your background and how you came to the cannabis space.
Jack Roosevelt: I began my career in finance, working for JP Morgan and Barclays. I left Barclays and joined a renewable energy start up before eventually joining the cannabis space.
My move into the cannabis space was due to an event in the summer of 2019. Adult use cannabis had been legal in Massachusetts since November of 2018. Now, I smoked some weed in high school and college, but hadn’t touched it in at least 20 years. However, cannabis was now legal, so I said maybe there’s an opportunity to find something that would help me unwind at the end of the day, help with sleep and manage some of my stress.
Knowing that I smoked in high school and college, I figured that buying weed was buying weed. How difficult could this be? That took me to going to a dispensary for the first time. Walking through those doors made me realize that buying cannabis today is nothing like buying weed back when I was in college. It’s a fundamentally different experience.
I stood there looking at the menu of strains, with names that meant nothing to me, jargon like terpenes, and even the idea of sativa versus indica at that time was foreign to me. Twenty years ago, we didn’t pay attention to the strain name or anything like that. We’d walk into someone’s dorm room and your option would be ‘this is twenty bucks an eighth, forty bucks an eighth and sixty bucks an eighth.’ You weren’t paying attention to the strain or the name of anything like that.
Coming into the dispensary that day, I thought I’d walk out of there with an eighth of flower and something to help me unwind at the end of the day. I walked out of there with a tincture and it really wasn’t because they upsold me to a better product, it was because it was the least worst option I could see on the menu. It was something I felt that I could understand from a dosing standpoint and it was something that didn’t require knowing the strains or names that mean nothing to me. I was quite frankly looking for the easiest way to purchase something and get out of there as quickly as possible
Sitting in the car afterwards, I was mulling over that experience, the feeling of intimidation, how awkward it was, how frustrating it was. I am 6’8” and 300 pounds I am not a small guy, and I’m not a wallflower. I don’t intimidate easily, so if this was my experience, what was this going to be like for everyone else?
That made me reexamine and take a stronger look at the retail market and the potential growth. How do you engage the consumer like me, for whom there are lots of barriers to entry, most of which are perception-driven. Some of the barriers are regulatory and geographic, but most are perception based. Here in Massachusetts, a lot of the dispensaries are in inconvenient locations. Not all towns allow for rec sales, and not all of those towns that do will allow a dispensary to open on the High Street, so consumers often times have to drive out of their way to get to a dispensary.
So, for me understanding what this new consumer base would look like and how they would come into the market was key. Obviously there would be a natural growth progression for the cannabis market. However, if we could build something to help guide people, answer their questions and make them feel comfortable with what they were buying and how to consume, really hold their hand in the initial stage of a consumer coming back into the market or coming in for the first time, then we could help grow the market quicker and put that natural progression of growth on a faster track.
That experience made me start to do some market research, look at the market size, and what that potential market could look like. Our research shows that, depending on the maturity of the market in question, there are between 1.5 and 4 times the number of Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines than there are active consumers in a market. Here in MA, conservatively there are at least 1.5MM Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines, waiting to come into the market. Because our research showed such a large opportunity he in MA and the Northeast, where we live, we decided to focus our efforts here.. Because we are Cannacurious consumers ourselves, we have a natural understanding and empathy for the consumer. I was definitely not and still am not an expert on cannabis. But if we can find the right experts that can answer the questions that we have then we can do the same for the Cannacurious. For 70+ years, we’ve been told that cannabis is bad, smoking weed is bad and everything associated with it is bad. So, we want to break that negative perception, that stigma that is still lingering and open it up to a more mainstream consumer.
CIJ: What gave you the idea to start Lucida Club?
Jack: What I just told you sums it up pretty well. It was basically built out of personal frustration. I thought that if I had this problem, those feelings of intimidation, awkwardness and frustration, then undoubtedly a lot of other people would too. Therefore, we’re looking at how we can create a platform that would make the buying process as simple and convenient as possible, while educating the consumers at the same time.
CIJ: How does Lucida Club work?
Jack: It’s a concept of simplicity and convenience. There are two sides to this: The E-commerce side, when you sign up and become a member and you want to make a purchase, all you have to do is answer three questions: What experience do you want? Do you want to smoke something or not? And how much money what do you want to spend? We put together three experience packages with three key price points, around $100, around $150 and around $250.
It is based on available inventory, which products and price points match up with different packages. We have fully integrated with Flowhub and are doing the same thing with some other POS systems as well. We see the inventory for our retail partners on a live basis. When one of our members makes a purchase, if they choose the sleep, nonsmoking, $100 package and put that option in their cart, by the time it populates in their cart, our platform has already gone to the dispensary inventory, we’ve allocated their inventory by experience and by order preference. So it will put those top two or three or four items in the cart automatically. The consumer doesn’t have to worry about what brands are available.
We’ve done all the work for them. They just need to pay attention to what experience and price point they want and we take care of the rest.
The other side of our business involves our head curator who combs through all the inventories and manages the product selection. But he also works with with our members as a concierge. When you sign up for our service, you automatically get a free consultation with our head curator, which we encourage all of our members to do before they make their first purchase. That way, we can answer all your questions and make sure the package is really tailored towards you individually. You also get a follow up consultation, which helps to guide additional advice and make sure you get the experience you’re looking for. On top of that, we’re also trying to advance consumer education through a lot of content, answering common questions and help to guide consumers on their journey with cannabis and the role it can play in their lives.
CIJ: How do you think you are innovating the cannabis retail experience?
Jack: When I was sitting in the car that fateful day back in 2019, I looked at retail the same way everyone else does: you build a store, an e-commerce platform, you have a product you’re trying to sell and focus on the product itself. What opened my eyes being the consumer that day was that cannabis unique.
We’ve been told for decades about how bad cannabis is for us and for society and these negative connotations have been drilled in to us. We need to look at the retail space from the consumer’s perspective and the barriers to entry that they feel. It’s not something that a regular retailer can do easily.
By definition, a brick-and-mortar retailer, needs to be everything to everybody, for all of their customers. They have to work with the connoisseurs, the regulars that have been consuming for a long time, who really understand what they’re looking for. At the same time, they need to engage with the canna-curious, the newbie that’s walking in the door for the first time. It’s difficult to focus on one market segment for them. If they were to focus all of their efforts on just the canna-curious, they would be missing out and losing traction and not engaging properly with their other customer bases.
We have the ability to engage with a very specific market segment, the Cannacurious, which is a very large group of people by the numbers but still niche. Our research shows that there are at least 1.5 million Cannacurious in Massachusetts alone that are either sitting on the sidelines or engaging in the market in a very small way. We’ve spoken to a lot of people that have other people make purchases for them, their sister or brother going to a dispensary that feels comfortable picking up a single package of edibles for them. That’s a form of hand holding that we want to provide. We want to make consumers feel comfortable and educate them on how they can choose products for the experience they want.
In my mind when we look at the cannabis space, it’s about how we can help people come into the marketplace, how we can help open their eyes to a litany of other opportunities for them and also how to approach things from a consumer perspective.
CIJ: What do you think the future of retail in cannabis looks like?
Jack: That’s a tough question because so much of that is driven form a regulatory standpoint. I know where I think it would go if regulators were just there to make it easy for consumers and for everyone to do business. It changes so much state to state and market to market. In retail in general, so much is moving online and on to e-commerce. Where you have a situation where people actually understand what they want and they tend to buy the same products on a regular basis, e-commerce is great and easy for them to make a purchase. Delivery opens a lot of doors as well with that. But again, it’s really difficult to look at what is going to happen because the market is so fragmented from a regulatory standpoint.
It won’t develop in one direction easily. Delivery is an option but we don’t have it on a mass scale in Massachusetts. It’s the same with e-commerce. Technically in Massachusetts, purchasing online is not an easy thing to facilitate. It still has to be done at the point of sale in-person with pickup and it hampers e-commerce. This potentially slows down how the market could develop. I definitely know where it could go, but looking into that magic eight ball will still be very cloudy if you ask it for an answer. Sorry, I have to obfuscate things a little there because it’s just so hard to figure out what the regulators will greenlight next and where they want the market to go.
We really just don’t know. There are so many ways to look at that question. If you’re a brick-and-mortar dispensary right now and you’re looking at how the market itself is growing in the state of Massachusetts, it’s tough to say. We went from about sixty licensed retailers during the height of the pandemic to well over 200 now. There’s going to be some consolidation. Whether that means that the growth of MSOs will proliferate and everything will be homogenized going forward, I don’t know what that could mean because at the moment it’s very difficult to have that full homogenization when you’re only allowed to have a handful of retail licenses. How do any of the MSOs gain real traction with three locations? If that changes, if you go somewhere like Florida where the rules are different, you see the true growth of the MSO with dozens of retail locations. Here, we still have a lot of mom-and-pop retailers along with a lot of much smaller MSOs who might have locations in one or two other states.
E-commerce will bring a lot to the market and help brands grow significantly. How we grow depends almost entirely on what the regulatory environment looks like. There are so many different things we could do with our platform, but we are so hampered by the regulations in just this one market alone. We built our platform and business model the way we did because it allows us to be flexible and adapt. As we move into a new market, we can build relationships and new markets open up. It’s all about being flexible if you can be.
Some consumers participating in the legal cannabis market want to avoid inhalable products. They are concerned about the effects of the smoke or they want their usage to be discreet — without the pungent aroma emanating from burning cannabis flower. For those consumers, edibles are the preferred option and a growing product category.
Within the edibles space, the beverage segment — with limited product options in some states — may offer significant potential for growth. In 2021, cannabis-infused beverages accounted for only 1% of total legal cannabis product sales and about 5% of the edibles segment in the United States, reports market researcher BDSA. But cannabis beverage sales are growing around the U.S.
In California, cannabis drinks grew their market share in the edibles category from 4% in 2018 to 7% in 2021. Nevada saw beverages increase their share of edibles revenues from 7% to 10% in the same time frame. And cannabis beverages’ share of edibles sales in Massachusetts went from less than 1% in 2019 to 8% in 2021.
Pegged at $180 million in revenue last year, the cannabis beverage market is projected to reach nearly $500 million by 2026, predicts BDSA.
Today, gummies and chocolate products dominate the edibles category. Although beverages are currently a small segment of edible sales, they may have some inherent advantages — familiarity, faster-acting products from improved bioavailability, and taste and flavor innovations — over other cannabis products. Since beverages can incorporate many different flavors from fruity, cola and sweet to coffee, tea, sour and bitter, these myriad flavor variations can mask or minimize any off-tastes associated with THC.
Viewed as part of their everyday regimen, consumers drink beverages for hydration, nourishment, refreshment and enjoyment. Cannabis beverages are well-suited for consumers’ lifestyles, while gummies and chocolates may be perceived as sugary treats and special occasion items.
Brand owners are beginning to recognize the limited availability of products and growth potential of cannabis-infused beverages and are looking to enter the category. Packaging plays a key role in cannabis beverages, with sustainability, regulatory compliance (e.g., child-resistant), labeling compliance (e.g., warning symbols and text), convenience and branding all contributing to the success of the expanding product category.
Consumers, especially younger generations, are concerned about the environment and support brands that align with their values. According to the 2020 Sustainable Market Share Index from the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, sustainability-marketed products delivered about 55% of the market growth in consumer packaged goods (CPG) from 2015 to 2019 in the U.S. despite being only 16% of the market. Sustainability-marketed goods grew seven times faster than products not marketed as sustainable and nearly four times faster than the overall CPG market.
As a primary consumer touchpoint, packaging is a good way for cannabis beverage brands to show their commitment to the environment. But finding the most sustainable packaging option for a particular application may not always be as straightforward as it seems. Many considerations are involved — material choice (e.g., plastic, glass, or aluminum), recyclability of the material, the weight of the material, recycled content of the final package, package design (minimalist vs. excessive), transportation costs and other factors like reusability.
To help facilitate the process, Berlin Packaging uses life cycle analysis to determine a product’s environmental impact or carbon footprint over its entire life cycle, including sourcing & raw materials extraction (minerals resource use), manufacturing (energy and water usage), distribution (freight miles, fuel usage) and end-of-life (recovery, recycling, reprocessing).
We have the know-how to improve the sustainability of any packaging material — whether it be lightweighting, use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, greater recycling rates and more.
Because legal cannabis products are regulated by individual states and not at the federal or national level, the regulations for cannabis packaging requirements can vary widely from one state to another. However, there are some common rules that all states follow.
All cannabis products — including beverages — require child-resistant packaging to meet the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. For aluminum cans, Berlin Packaging offers a child-resistant capable mechanism that fits snugly over the top of a can. Available in polypropylene or a bio-based resin, the single-use device can be custom developed to fit the exact specifications of the customer’s cans. In-stock products are available for standard 202 can ends.
Along with child-resistant capable packaging, states also require some type of warning symbol and statement on the label to indicate the product contains cannabis. Depending on the state, the symbol may be a triangular or diamond shaped in a bright or contrasting color to call attention to it on the label. The symbol typically houses a cannabis leaf image or “THC”.
Like any packaged drink, cannabis beverages need to check all the boxes for consumer convenience — easy to drink, portability, cupholder friendly and resealable.
Users can easily reseal PET and glass bottles with continuous thread or lug finish closures, but cans present a challenge. Berlin Packaging offers a solution with a resealable can that opens like a traditional stay-on-tab. Here’s how it works. Lifting the pull tab breaks the tamper-evident band and unlocks the slider mechanism. Pulling the slider opens the can and makes the familiar venting sound — even after reopening.
The configuration of the opening creates a smooth laminar flow to improve the drinking experience. Moving the slider back to its original position and pushing down the pull tab, which produces a clicking sound, reseal the closure. The tamper-evident band remains on the can underneath the pull tab.
Cannabis beverages come in drops, shots, syrups, carbonated, iced tea, lemonade, fruity, water, sports & energy, mocktails, tea, coffee and hot cocoa.
Because cannabis has been associated with medicinal uses, many consumers use cannabis products to manage their wellbeing and health. Thus, some cannabis products have been positioned to relieve stress, promote relaxation and sleep, reduce pain and inflammation, improve mental focus, enhance mood or simply for indulgence and enjoyment.
Product positioning and the experience the brand owner wants to create for the consumer can help inform the brand design, personality, and narrative or storytelling. It’s also important that the brand design and messaging resonate with the product’s target audience.
Studio One Eleven, Berlin Packaging’s in-house innovation division, can help cannabis beverage marketers with their product branding from concept to commercialization. We offer market research and consumer insights, brand strategy and visual branding design, brand name development, structural package design, and more. Our services are available at no additional charge in exchange for a customer’s packaging business.
Cruise Beverage distributes nitrogen-infused CBD drinks with all-natural ingredients in 12-oz aluminum cans under the B Happy brand. The team at Studio One Eleven helped Cruise Beverage and its B Happy brand tell their story of free-spirited enjoyment with updated branding, expressive flavor names (i.e., Loosen Up Lemon, Peaceful Pear, Mellow Mango, and Blissful Blood Orange), and unique packaging graphics.
Uplifting illustrations speak to the brand’s sense of freedom and relaxation, and the hand-drawn style reflects the craftsmanship of the CBD beverage product. A white background with flavorful pops of color says clean and fresh, while tiny bubble imagery communicates the delightful effervescence of the fizzy drinks.
According to projections, counterfeiting and piracy could reach $2.3 trillion in the US alone, bringing the economic cost to $4.2 trillion globally by 2022. The pandemic made the billion-dollar problem even worse. Products that you directly ingest or place in contact with your body have become a target for counterfeiters introducing some serious side effects.
More than 70% of the CBD products purchased at unlicensed CBD shops in the Los Angeles area failed after-market laboratory testing according to the SC Labs report brought by the United Cannabis Business Association (UCBA). More than half of the tested samples labeled as hemp or hemp-based did not qualify as hemp. Perhaps the biggest concern is the level of contamination which in some cases, were several hundred times the allowed limit.
With the rise of synthetic cannabinoid agonists, some of them having a structure similar to THC, it is hard to keep track of the complete list. The majority of these chemicals are produced in Asia without standards or regulations. The most extreme case has been a version of synthetic cannabis laced with rat poison that led to several deaths.
Last year in Florida, synthetic THC was to blame for daily emergency calls to Poison Control. Poisoning cases linked to counterfeit cannabis edibles tripled between 2019 and 2020.
Vaping is growing rapidly in popularity. An illicit market has emerged and with it a rise in Vaping-Associated Pulmonary Illness (VAPI). Over a hundred cases have been reported in California contributing to over a thousand reported cases nationwide.
Consumers pay a harsh and unnecessary price with their health, risking long-term damage or even death. If you don’t know the source, it is very difficult to identify counterfeit cannabis products. Still, some telling points can help you identify the fakes:
Authentic-looking products available at dubious prices perhaps bought at a gas station or a convenience store.
Packaging that matches a reputable brand, without the brand’s logo and missing required details such as an amount of CBD and THC per serving.
Missing laboratory testing information
Legitimate product manufacturers and brand owners suffer financial losses, as well as something even more precious – trust and reputation.
Essential elements of a brand protection program
Are you running a business in the cannabis industry? It is your top-quality product the customers want and not some third-rate knockoff. How can you provide your customers with the means to verify that their product is genuine? Let’s weigh several methods.
1. Provide images and videos of an authentic item on your website
Customers can visually compare the details of the product.
Customers need to know your website and navigate to a specific page with product details. You need to capture several details of the product.
2. Label each item with a unique product code. Optionally use a hologram image as an additional anti-forgery
Customers can verify a single product code instead of several visual details.
You must be able to generate unique product codes and maintain a database of these codes for later verification.
You need to implement a solution for customers to authenticate their product codes.
3. Use a product number authority like ProdNum to issue and validate unique QR product codes for you
Customers don’t need to retype an alphanumeric product code, merely scan a QR code with a camera to get instant verification.
The manufacturer doesn’t need to implement and maintain a custom solution.
You need to arrange printing of the QR codes on the package or stickers you will attach to each product.
The inevitable drawback of a profitable cannabis business is the fact it attracts counterfeiters. Businesses and customers joining forces in the never-ending battle against counterfeiting is a winning scenario for both.
In the cannabis industry, it’s vital for your brand to stand out and engage your target customer at every touchpoint. When it comes to your visual identity, choosing the right design style is more than just what looks good to you. It comes down to creating a brand ethos, understanding your customer, defining a brand personality, assessing your budget and time and choosing a designer. In order to harness the power of illustration to take your cannabis brand’s visual identity to new heights, you must consider all of these factors when crafting your strategy.
Creating a Brand Ethos When you begin to build out your cannabis brand, developing your brand ethos is the perfect place to start. There are many factors to consider. First, remember to be true to who you are because people will see right through you if you try to be something you aren’t. Then, spend the time to write down what you’re passionate about and make sure all areas of your business and brand align with those values.
Next, understand what you do better than anyone else and scream it from the rooftops. That is your differentiator. That is what your customers will come to know you for. After defining what you do best, build up a reputation around it and continue to grow in a positive direction.
Lastly, make sure your design, packaging and messaging are all consistent and work together in a cohesive way. I’ve found that consistency is key in everything from the product quality and your look to your communications and interactions with customers.
Understanding Your Customer
Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone. So many people are under the impression that everyone is going to want their product, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With the cannabis industry evolving at lightning speed, there are more consumption options than ever before. You still have those true to smoking leaf; others are looking for concentrates, while some want the smoke/smell free route of edibles and beverages. Each of these cannabis products are going to target a different audience and demographics, and all of that needs to be taken into consideration when building your brand.
For instance, edibles are an easy way for someone to first try cannabis. By taking a more educational approach to the packaging, brands can help those customers feel more comfortable with their first cannabis purchase. At the end of the day, people want to know what they are getting into and how it is going to affect them. This should always be taken into consideration when deciding on the design style for these products.
Defining A Brand Personality
I always like to reference the craft beer world when talking about cannabis these days. As craft breweries popped up, the successful ones always had two things: a great product and a great personality that connected with their community. The same should be said for cannabis.
Start with a great product and build a community that appreciates your character and wants you to stay true to it. Are you punk? Are you a stoner brand? Are you taking more of a scientific approach? Whatever speaks loudest to YOU, make sure that approach is carried through to your customer. You will earn their trust and they will appreciate that you stay true and genuine to who you are.
Once you identify what your brand personality is, then you can start to make decisions on your logo, packaging and verbal communication. Get with your trusted designer and/or illustrator (more on that below), and start to make decisions about what style fits your brand best. Will your look be clever, vibrant or all-natural? Will it be illustrative or photo-forward? There isn’t a one size fits all solution.
Remember to not slack on having your communication match the look, feel and personality of your brand. With a cohesive visual and verbal identity, you’ll be able to create magical moments where the consumer feels like they are uncovering something special when they make a genuine connection with your cannabis brand.
Assessing Your Budget & Time
Budget and time are two HUGE components of deciding what visual direction to take. This is where you’ll really start making decisions about whether you should go with an illustrative design style. While illustration can take your cannabis brand’s visual identity to the next level, there are pros and cons to going that route.
Overall, illustration can be time-intensive and expensive depending on the illustrator and complexity of the work. If you want to have a different illustration for every strain you cultivate it can get pricey, but it may also set you apart from the competition. You have to weigh if the upfront cost of having something created will help differentiate your brand long-term. It is a much easier decision when you only have a couple of SKUs to start with or you choose a simpler illustration style, as these have less potential to initially set you back.
Most importantly, you get to work with people who are as passionate about their craft as you are in yours. Find an illustrator with a style that you like that fits your brand. I find it harder to find an illustrator and ask them to conform their approach to fit your look. It can be done as there is a lot of talent out there, but if you find someone that is already creating what you like, it will be much easier to get what you’re looking for.
You’ll be able to develop a look and feel that sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. Illustration evokes emotions and tells a story, which can be quickly identified by a potential customer.
Timing is huge. Make sure you find an illustrator you trust that can turn things around when you need it. Give the illustrator plenty of time to execute your vision as well.
Budget comes into play as now you need to hire a designer and an illustrator. There are some designers that illustrate as well, but these are diamonds in the rough.
If you need a new illustration for every product, that will cost more than simply updating a name and colors in a design system.
As many cannabis products are small format, it can be tough to truly highlight the detail in a great illustration.
Choosing A Designer
Finding a designer that focuses on illustration and whose style reflects your brand’s look and feel is important because it’s critical to be on the same page. Sometimes finding a designer AND an illustrator is the way to go. Even if you love the designer’s work, if it doesn’t fit with your brand’s look/feel, you won’t be happy with the end result. A good designer will be able to work with a good illustrator and vice versa.
Questions to ask potential designers include:
Are they taking new clients?
What do turnaround times look like?
How much is the project going to cost?
Do you own the artwork when they are done?
It’s incredibly important that you get along with the designer and/or illustrator you choose to work with. There are a lot of choices and it always helps to work with people that share the same values that you do. To open up your options, you can choose illustrators that are at different levels in their careers. A college student may be less expensive, but not have the professional and business experience you need, while a seasoned illustrator has more expertise to bring to the table, but may be more expensive.
The goal is for the designer and/or illustrator you choose to successfully create a visual identity to capture your cannabis brand’s essence and character.
The bottom line is that your visual identity is a critical component of your brand. Make sure you build it in the right way, so you can attract customers who align with and appreciate your cannabis brand identity’s look and feel. Cheers!
As more states legalize the use of cannabis for both medicinal and adult use, the market is growing exponentially. For growers and dispensaries, that means bringing their ‘A’ game when it comes to marketing their cannabis products – and that includes labels.
Not only do your cannabis labels need to be compliant with regulations, but you also need to make sure they stand out from the competitors. However, while creating a label seems like it should be easy, it can be a challenge to navigate the complex and murky legal landscape.
But don’t worry, we’ve got your back! Let’s take a look at the key federal regulations you need to be aware of, what NOT to put on cannabis labels and expert advice to help you find the perfect label material for your brand. Let’s get started.
Cannabis Labeling Requirements: What You Need to Know
As of now, cannabis has not been ruled legal in all 50 states. However, states where cannabis is legalized determine their own set of rules and guidelines. These legislative guidelines are constantly being updated and revised for the labeling and packaging of cannabis products, so staying compliant can be challenging for dispensaries and manufacturers.
Since packaging laws vary by state, it’s important to follow general federal regulations for your product, as well as check your state for cannabis-specific label requirements.
At the very least, you should understand and follow cannabis labeling regulations in accordance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FDCA). Let’s dive right into the basic elements that FDCA requires when labeling cannabis products.
Name and Location of Business: It is critical to always include the name and location of your business on both the inner and outer information panel. In doing so, customers always have a way to contact you for any questions. If you are worried about taking up too much space, a QR code is a great way to offer additional information.
Product Identity: Is your product meant to be used for adult or medicinal use? You must include what your cannabis product is or does on the Product Display Panel (PDP) so it’s easy for customers to locate.
Net Quantity of Contents: Net quantity refers to the total weight or volume of a finished product (excluding packaging) and is federally mandated on labels. For packaged liquid cannabis products, net quantity should be labeled in fluid measure. Meanwhile, packaged solid, semi-solid and viscous cannabis products should be labeled in dry weight.
Warning Statements: Since cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, it’s recommended to include warning statements for the specific product types. For example, the warning statement should stay “for medical use only” for all medical cannabis products.
List of Ingredients: You must include a complete declaration of all ingredients in your cannabis product. This must be listed on the informational panel on the outer packaging. If there is no outer packaging, then it must be placed on the product package itself.
Disclosure of Critical Facts: In general, this includes critical information that customers would want to know when buying your product. This can include:
Suggested use for the product
What NOT To Put On a Cannabis Label
Proper cannabis labeling can ensure you remain compliant with regulations and legal requirements. Without compliance, you won’t be able to sell your products and could lead to a hefty fine – and nobody wants that! Here are the things you should stay away from adding to your label:
Unapproved Health Claims: As of now, both federal law and state laws do not recognize cannabis as a dietary supplement or substance that can help prevent, cure or treat serious diseases. For that reason, your safest bet is to stay away from making any false health claims on labels and websites.
Obscured Fonts: Text and font issues can muddle the look of your cannabis label and land you into compliance issues. Most states require cannabis labels to have a font and text size that is prominent, clear and easy to read for information panels. Therefore, it is critical to find typography that showcases your brand while maintaining compliance with federal and state regulations.
Faulty Ingredient List: Cannabis labels must accurately include the types of compounds present, it’s percentage and dosage found in the product. Plus, it is required that all cannabis products include cannabinoid profiles and provide a list of any active ingredients.
Considerations for Labeling Materials
To cut through the noise in a highly competitive retail environment, it’s critical to carefully consider the label materials for your cannabis product. Here are some things to consider.
Label Material Choice: Polypropylene or Paper
Take into account what your cannabis product is (tincture, gummies, etc.) when choosing your label material. For example, if it’s a liquid cannabis product, your label can come into contact with the liquid itself, causing damage and risk the label falling off over time. For that reason, the polypropylene label would be the better choice because it’s waterproof, oil-resistant and offers more durability. On the other hand, if your cannabis product does not require a lot of protection and you are looking for a more affordable option, then paper labels would be the better option.
Coating Choice: Matte or Glossy
Choosing between matte or glossy finish depends on your preferred brand aesthetic. If you are looking to dazzle some customers and have a vibrant design on your cannabis label, then it’s best to choose a glossy finish because it holds the ink better. As a result, your label design will appear striking and crisp when printed! But, maybe that’s not the vibe of your cannabis brand so you’re looking for something more traditional. If so, a matte finish is a better choice because it absorbs some of the ink – producing that vintage, distressed look!
Your cannabis products deserve to stand out and shine in this booming market. But your product won’t even make it to the market if you are not following label requirements. Proper cannabis labeling ensures that the product is compliant, builds trust with your customers and boosts your credibility within the space. Since requirements are constantly evolving in this new industry, you must always triple-check with both federal and state regulations for the most up-to-date information in regards to cannabis product labeling. In doing so, you’ll be able to design an enticing package with proper labels that will earn heart eyes from consumers, while providing essential information about your product.
Flower continues to be the dominant product category in US cannabis sales. In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles, Aaron Green interviews integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory, supply chain and consumer demand.
Audacious (OCTQB: AUSA) is an Aurora (TSX: ACB) spinoff formerly known as Australis Capital, Inc. They have focused on an asset-light expansion strategy whereby they leverage their expertise in designing cannabis facilities in exchange for favorable cost plus arrangements for a percentage of the facilities’ production.
We interviewed Marc Lakmaaker, SVP of Capital Markets at Audacious. Prior to joining Audacious, Marc worked with Terry Booth at Aurora. His background is in investor relations.
Aaron Green: Marc, how did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Marc Lakmaaker: I was working for an investor relations agency. and one of my colleagues left and she had a cannabis client that I took over, which was Bedrocan, Canada. I started working with them. They were then acquired by Tweed, which became Canopy. The guy I was working with at the time at Bedrocan was Cam Battley, who then went to Aurora. As soon as he joined Aurora, he said, “I need some help.” So, I came in house and worked there until July 2019. When I left, I set up my own agency, but by that time, I’d been working with Terry Booth for a few years. Then, this past December, Terry got in touch with me and said he needed my help. It was after the concerned shareholders had won the shareholder battle around Australis and the rest is history. So, I’ve now been working with Audacious, which was Australis, since December of last year, roughly.
Green: Just quickly on Australis: So, Audacious is basically a spin off of Aurora, correct?
Lakmaaker: Correct. So, at the time, Aurora had a couple of US assets on its balance sheet, a piece of land an annuity through a company Michigan. We were listed on the TSX. We were going to list or had just listed on the NYSE and were arranging for loan facility with a syndicate of banks. They said, “even though these assets are dormant, you can’t have any US assets on your balance sheet.” So, we spun Australis off – a little bit how Canopy had spun off Canopy Rivers. But it was really the idea that Australis is going to become the foothold for Aurora in the US cannabis market because Aurora has back-in rights.
The management team was put in place and started making some investments in the cannabis space, but kind of drifted away, sort of more into FinTech. First, it was FinTech related to cannabis and then FinTech, full stop. That’s when the shareholders were like, “we don’t agree with this.” Then the proxy battle started in which the dissident shareholders, or the concerned shareholders, won overwhelmingly. The Board left. The management team left. A new management team was put in place, a new Board in place, and it was kind of a restart.
So, we feel like we’re a bit of a startup. But a very rapidly moving startup. We’ve done an incredible amount of work in just the last seven to ten months. There was a lot of housekeeping to do. A lot of stuff related to restructuring the company, dealing with the departing management teams, dealing with bringing new management, etc. There were some deals that had to be unwound… Housekeeping if you will.
Green: Australis went down the FinTech route. What are the plans for Audacious now?
Lakmaaker: We’ve already started. We pivoted right away. In early January, we announced two acquisitions. One of ALPS, and the other one of Green Therapeutics. ALPS is really what is enabling us to execute on our strategy. It’s a very different strategy. It’s an asset light model, because we figured out that in order to grow quickly in this market without spending huge amounts of shareholder money, you need to be able to get into markets in a capital-light fashion. ALPS is the world’s preeminent greenhouse design company. Not just greenhouses, but also indoor facilities. They’ve got a 35-year track record in fruits and vegetables. They’ve got an eight-year-plus track record in cannabis – and built some of the best facilities in the world. They’ve got a lot of IP.
The proof point of that is our relationship with Belle Fleur. It’s a social equity license holder in Massachusetts. We helped them build their facility. We’re not contractors, but we do the design and engineering. We help them with partner selection. We do the construction management. We bring in a general contractor. Then we do the commissioning, and optionally, post-commissioning services, making sure that the facilities are dialed in. In return for all that IP, because what people know that what they get at the end of it is high quality, consistent cannabis and very low operating costs, we ask our clients to dedicate a certain percentage of their canopies to grow with our cultivars. Those we will buy back on a cost plus arrangement and we use that to launch our brands into whatever jurisdiction.
So, in Massachusetts, we’re working with Belle Fleur. We’re getting 10% of their canopy. We’re buying it back at cost plus 5%. So, we don’t have to sink money into building the facility. We’re not carrying the cost of capital there. We’re also not paying wholesale prices. And these relationships are locked in for a long time. I can’t remember if it was five or 10 years. So, it’s a very, it’s a different strategy, but it’s not contrarian – it’s very de-risked, that allows us to launch into new countries.
Then for Green Therapeutics, we’ve got a number of award-winning brands like Provisions and Tsunami. We’re kind of phasing out GT Flowers and there will be something else in its place. We also acquired Loose, which caters to a younger demographic, with a high potency shot beverage line that is now for sale in California.
We also have a partnership with PBR, the Professional Bull Riders Association. There’s some statistics around that that just absolutely blew me away – 83 million permanent fans! That’s 25% of the US population. I think the average income is $70,000. That’s well above the national average and the general split is fairly even too; it’s 53/47, male/female. Proper American sport! They have hundreds of hours of exposure on CBS. They’ve got 2 billion imprints on social media. So, with PBR, we launched Wreck Relief, which has several recognized and approved pain products in the lineup.
Green: What markets are you in right now?
Lakmaaker: Right now we’re in Nevada with cannabis products. This is our home market where our head offices are in Las Vegas. We’re in California. We just bought a dispensary in San Jose that comes with a partnership with Eaze. On top of that, we’re operationalizing in Missouri and Oklahoma, and officially building in Massachusetts.
Then through ALPS because they does both cannabis and non-cannabis, we’re in a number of states. We’re looking to get more of the supply deals. We’re also doing a lot of vegetable facilities throughout the entire world. We’re in Europe, we’re in Asia, in the Middle and in North America, we build these facilities from the desert up to the Arctic.
There’s a big movement right now to produce food that is safe and has a smaller carbon footprint. So, our facilities are kind of inherently more sustainable. They use up to 95% less water, less labor, less energy, they are less prone to disease, crop failure, everything. And because you are local producing for local communities, you reduce the transport carbon footprint.
Green: What in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?
Lakmaaker: I really like the sciences. I’m a chemical engineer by training. I think what is going to take an incredible flight in the years to come is the application of medical scientific research that’s being done right now. To me, that’s fascinating because the cannabis plant is something special. It’s got such a broad utility that we know, anecdotally. I think we’re moving towards a world where we’re going to see a lot of breakthroughs on the medical side.
I’m very excited about the other end too – cultivation. I think tissue culture is going to play an incredible and important role.
As the legality and availability of hemp and non-hemp cannabis products continues to grow, having strong, recognizable brands will become increasingly important in order to stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, strong brands invite knock-offs and can require aggressive policing. Registering your trademarks makes policing much easier, but registration of marks used to sell hemp and non-hemp cannabis products requires strategy and forethought.
Trademark rights flow from use, so a registration is not required for enforcement. However, “common law” rights based on use alone must be proven in each instance, and you must show that your use of the mark has been sufficient such that consumers recognize and associate it with your goods or services. This can be difficult, expensive and time consuming. Also, common law rights are territorially limited. Even if you can prove such rights in Oregon (for example), you may have no right to prevent use of your mark in other states. State trademark registrations are similarly limited, but are presently all that is available for marks used exclusively to sell non-hemp cannabis products.
By contrast, a federal trademark registration provides the registrant a nationwide, exclusive and presumed right to use the mark in association with the designated goods and services. In addition, counterfeit use of a federally registered trademark can lead to statutory damages. That is, you don’t have to prove an amount of harm—a court may simply award damages based on statute. Yet another benefit is the ability to file based on an “intent to use.” You can thereby reserve a mark nationwide for up to three years before you must show use. Federal registration is available for marks used to sell hemp products, but with some strict limitations as discussed below.
Use in Commerce Requirement
Federal registrations are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (the Office) once an application is approved and use in commerce is demonstrated. To satisfy the “use in commerce” requirement, an applicant must show that a mark is being used in association with the sale of goods or services that are legal to trade under federal law. Sale of products not legal under federal law simply does not count to establish trademark use for purposes of federal registration. This is where the vast majority of federal trademark applications for use with cannabis products get rejected. A search of the federal registry shows that, of over 8000 trademark applications for products containing cannabis extracts, only about 1,300 have resulted in registrations. But these 1,300 illustrate that there is a path to success.
The Office traditionally rejected all applications for use with products containing any cannabis extracts under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the Farm Bill, created an exception to the CSA for hemp, defined therein as cannabis extracts containing < 0.3% THC by dry weight. Based on this, the Office began allowing applications provided they designate only goods having 0.3% THC content or less. But even that limitation isn’t sufficient for some types of goods.
Unless specifically disclaimed, the Office will assume the presence of CBD in products containing cannabis extracts, regardless of THC quantity. On that basis it will reject applications for hemp products that are ingestible (food, drinks, nutritional supplements, etc.), or that claim a medical or therapeutic purpose, under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The FDCA requires Federal Drug Administration (FDA) endorsement to add “drugs” to such products, the FDA classifies CBD as a “drug,” and the FDA has authorized only a few products that include CBD. Thus, an allowable good that is ingestible or therapeutic must not only contain the low THC disclaimer, but must also state an absence of CBD. Notably, the Office has not been rejecting products on the basis that they contain CBG (cannabigerol) or other naturally occurring non-THC, non-drug cannabinoids.
Are the Goods Sold Really Allowable?
Of course this scheme of word-smithing designations to obtain allowance of federal trademark registrations invites error, if not fraud. Registrations are subject to cancellation if use of the mark with the designated goods is not maintained, or if it can be shown that the registration was fraudulently obtained. Thus, critical to a claim of use is that the applicant offers products that actually meet the designation description. The Office does not check for THC levels or CBD presence, and most purveyors of hemp products don’t either. Indeed, there is not even a standardized method for measuring these things. However, studies show that more than half of hemp products either purposefully or accidentally misrepresent their actual THC and CBD levels.i Though legally untested, this presents a potential problem for many existing federal registrations.
If a mark registered for use with goods having < 0.3% THC is found to be used only with products that actually have a greater amount of THC in them, the registration could be canceled. The same fate could befall a registration for goods claiming to have no CBD that, when tested, actually do contain more than trace levels. Even if non-hemp cannabis products are legalized under federal level, registrations obtained with THC and/or CBD limitations would still require the registrant to use the mark with products meeting such limitations.
Keeping Evidence for Insurance
So long as a registrant has maintained use of the registered mark “in commerce” in association with the designated goods, the registration is insulated from attack based on claims of non-use or fraud. The fact that the registrant also uses the mark for goods that are not legal on the federal level is of no consequence to the registration. Thus, it is wise to include in the product lineup under the brand to be protected at least some good that meets the present requirements for federal trademark registration.
One option is to include a product where the only cannabis extract is from hemp seed oil. Without even testing it, you can be reasonably assured that such a product will contain little or no CBD or THC. Another option short of testing is to obtain a certification or warrant from your supplier that particular ingredients truly are hemp, i.e., have < 0.3% THC by dry weight. This could be relied on as evidence should no original product be available for testing to show that use was legitimate at the time registration was obtained. If you can’t obtain such a certification, testing the occasional sample and keeping records over time would also work. Product samples can now be tested for THC content for around $100 per sample, with results back in about a week.ii
Zone of Natural Expansion
Though non-hemp cannabis products cannot be covered directly by federal registrations, a federal registration for CBD/hemp products can have spillover benefits. This is because the scope of a registration may expand to cover things similar to what is designated. The question comes down to likelihood of confusion. Imagine a company holds a registration covering LOOVELA for “nutritional supplements containing hemp seed oil having no CBD and < 0.3% THC by dry weight.” It would be logical for a consumer to assume that non-hemp cannabis products sold under the LOOVELA mark would likely be made by the same company. Thus, provided the company actually sold products complying with its designation, it could assert the CBD-based registration to prevent sale of LOOVELA branded non-hemp cannabis products. Also, should such products be legalized federally, the company would likely be the only applicant able to obtain an additional federal registration for LOOVELA for use with them, because any competing attempt would be confused with their pre-existing registration for CBD/hemp products.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the law in this space is evolving rapidly and is nuanced. Every situation is unique in some way, and there are many reasons an application may fail or a registration may be attacked that are not addressed above. But there is value in obtaining a federal registration for your hemp brands, and there is an overall strategy to be employed for brand protection in the cannabis space.
The content above is based on information current at the time of its publication and may not reflect the most recent developments or guidance. Neal Gerber Eisenberg LLP provides this content for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. You should seek advice from professional advisers with respect to your particular circumstances.
See, e.g., Bonn-Miller, Marcel O., et al., “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 318, No. 17, pp. 1708-09 (Nov. 7, 2017); Freedman, Daniel A. and Dr. Anup Patel, “Inadequate Regulation Contributes to Mislabeled Online Cannabidiol Products,” Pediatric Neurology Briefs, Vol. 32 at 3 (2018).
In 2002, Dale Katechis revolutionized craft beer. A seemingly simple packaging decision, putting craft beer in a can, sparked an international movement and put craft beer on the map.
Before the craft beer market really gained steam, consumers associated good beer with glass bottles and larger brands selling cheap beer with cans. Through education, creative marketing and a mission to put people over profits, Dale helped the craft beer market expand massively while sticking to his roots. He also managed to convince people to drink good beer from a can.
When Dale founded Oskar Blues about twenty years ago, he didn’t just succeed in selling beer. Through collaboration and information sharing, Dale propelled craft beer as a whole and lifted all boats with a rising tide. He’s hoping to achieve similar results with his new role in the cannabis space.
Veritas Fine Cannabis, the first craft cannabis cultivator in Colorado, announced that Dale joined the company’s leadership team. Jonathan Spadafora, partner and head of marketing and sales at Veritas, told us that he’s excited about working with Dale. He says Dale is already helping them open a whole world of branding and marketing opportunities. “This is our Shark Tank moment – we’ve got someone who’s been through the fire before and will help us keep differentiating, finding new avenues and new ways to solve problems,” says Spadafora.
His colleague, Mike Leibowitz, CEO of Veritas, shares the same sentiment. “Dale maintained company culture and quality as he grew Oskar Blues into a household name,” says Leibowitz. “Maintaining our unique company culture is paramount as we work to build Veritas Fine Cannabis into the same.”
Dale’s role in the leadership team at Veritas is about sticking to his roots. Through raising industry standards in the best interest of quality products and consumers, the team at Veritas hopes to expand the brand nationally, just like Oskar Blues did, while instilling a culture of disruption and innovation without compromising quality.
We caught up with Dale to learn more about his story and what he hopes to bring to Veritas, as well as the cannabis industry at large. And yes, I had a couple of Dale’s Pale Ales (his namesake beer) later that evening.
Aaron Biros: Your success with Oskar Blues is inspiring. Taking an amazing beer like Dale’s Pale Ale and putting it in a can sounds simple to the layperson, but you launched a remarkable movement to put craft beer on the map. How do you plan to use your experience to help Veritas grow their business?
Dale Katechis: I am hoping that I can apply some of the lessons that I’ve learned through making mistakes of growing a business from the ground up. There’s obviously a lot of road blocks in cannabis and that is certainly one of the qualities of Veritas – how they’ve grown and how they had to do it in an environment that is much more challenging than the beer space.
My experience in small business development could potentially help them navigate this next renaissance of the space. I’m going to help them compete and bring the industry to a level that helps everybody win. I certainly felt that way in the craft beer movement. It was very important to us to bring the whole industry along because we were educators, we weren’t salesmen. In doing that, lifting everyone to a level where the industry benefits as a whole is a part of small business growth. To me that’s the most fulfilling part. It wasn’t just about the Oskar Blues ego at the time, it was about the craft beer scene. And what’s happening in cannabis now is very similar to what happened in the nineties with the craft beer scene.
Aaron: How did you get interested in joining the cannabis industry? What made you choose Veritas?
Dale: Most of my life, I’ve been an enjoyer of cannabis. Very recently, in the last two years, I’ve been intrigued by getting involved in the space. I’ve been shopping around for opportunities and nothing really excited me until I met Jon Spadafora and Mike Leibowitz.
It was really the two of them, the comradery and how they treat their staff that was so similar to the culture at Oskar Blues. Call it a “passion play” if you will, but this was the best opportunity to get involved with a small company and hopefully be a value add for them being in the room and sharing ideas.
Aaron: As a pioneer and leader in the craft beer space, do you notice any commonalities between the growth of the craft beer market and the legal cannabis market?
Dale: It is kind of crazy how many similarities there are. Not just the industry as a whole, but specifically the commonalities between my business, Oskar Blues, and Veritas. Overall, that’s really what allowed me to want to lean in a bit more. I wasn’t in the place where I wanted to start anything on my own. I didn’t want to be involved in fixing anything. I’ve been involved in those situations before and I’m at a point in my life that I don’t want to fix anything. Thankfully there’s nothing that needed to be fixed at Veritas. That was an exciting piece of the equation for me.
Back to your question, how the consumer looks at cannabis versus how the consumer looks at beer in the craft beer space is very similar. There is a bit of an educational piece that’s happening where it’s almost a requirement in the cannabis industry and Veritas is leading that charge out front.
That’s what’s going to catapult Veritas and other companies if they follow suit. It’s their mentality and their philosophy of bringing the industry along as a whole, and I think it’s going to end up boding well for the consumer. The craft beer space was the same.
We had to educate people on a beer can and why we felt like a can of beer was important and exciting. The industry and the consumer associated cans of beer with large, industrial lagers and the can got a bad rap as a result. Not because it wasn’t a great package, but because they were putting bad beer in a good package. So, we had a long road of educating the consumer on the benefits of the can and I think what Veritas is doing with packaging now, how they use quality as such a fundamental pillar of their business, how they focus on the employee experience and the consumer experience sets them up for success, instead of just looking at the bottom line.
I’ve said it throughout my entire career, and at Oskar Blues, we never focused on the profits. You do the right thing for the biggest group of people moving the ball forward and the bottom line takes care of itself. Jon and Mike understand that so I don’t need to fight that battle. It’s another big similarity to the craft beer space.
Aaron: How can cannabis companies keep their craft? How can we, as an industry and as individual businesses, celebrate craft cannabis and follow in the footsteps of independent craft beer?
Dale: I believe that we’re starting to see some of that consolidation [that has been taking place in the craft beer market]. We’re at a time in the market right now where companies with such a solid foundation like Veritas don’t need to go that route to grow. I think we’ll start to see a lot more consolidation in the cannabis industry soon.
Back to the point of bonding together as an industry and as a whole. Championing some of the regulatory hurdles that are coming and sticking together is crucial. One company can’t do it. There’s going to have to be some comradery in the industry among everyone trying to hold the bar up high instead of racing to the bottom. You die by a thousand cuts. I’ve lived that life in craft beer and we saw what happened 6-7 years ago when the industry overexpanded because of exponential growth. A lot of egos got in the room, and a lot of breweries spent a lot of money building out capacity and then that same year the market popped out. Everyone who didn’t have a solid foundation, got washed out of the industry.
That’s why I appreciate what Jon and Mike are doing and how they built Veritas. It’s very similar to how we built Oskar Blues. We had humble beginnings; we didn’t spend money on things outside of our core competency. We focused on quality, employee experience, morale and holding on to the culture of Oskar Blues. That’s what Jon and Mike are doing with Veritas and I think that’s really important.
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