Last week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) published a consumer warning regarding food products containing THC and the risk of children accidentally eating them. Between January of last year through April 24, 2022, the FDA says they have received more than 100 adverse event reports involving people (both adults and children) accidentally consuming THC-containing products.
According to the published advisory, the main concern seems to be copycat products that are packaged and labeled to resemble popular junk foods. The copycat, THC-containing products are mimicking Cap’n Crunch, Cocoa Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Nerds Ropes, Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids, Trix and others.
In years past, usually around Halloween, local police, municipalities and state officials would often issue similar warnings over the same issue. Folks in the cannabis industry are usually quick to dismiss those warnings as dramatized and misleading, citing extremely low numbers of actual instances where edibles were given to children during Halloween. However, these warnings might be more warranted now, given the number of copycat products on the market today and the increased number of adverse events the FDA has reported.
Historically, most of the companies producing these copycat products that contain THC, like Sour Patch Kids or Nerds Rope candies, come from the illicit market. Most licensed edibles producers know not to steal branding and packaging from a large food company. Still though, it is worth taking a good, hard look at cannabis edibles packaging and making sure they wouldn’t be mistaken for a food product that doesn’t contain THC.
As the cannabis industry grows so does the crucial need for child-resistant (CR) packaging solutions. There’s a long list of federal regulations that are required for any cannabis product to ensure that the package is both difficult for children to open, yet easily accessible for adults. This formula can often be difficult; add design into the mix and your packaging solution just got extremely complex.
However, brand image and appeal does not need to be sacrificed over packaging requirements. With the use of print effects, interactive elements, and captivating colors and designs, companies can create the ideal paperboard packaging for cannabis products while staying within federal regulations.
Let’s start with the packaging requirements first.
CR Packaging Requirements for Cannabis Products
Depending on the state you do business in, your cannabis product is subject to a variety of child-resistant regulations that will keep children safe from potentially harmful materials. These regulations create packaging that is unappealing and inaccessible to children. Key elements of CR packaging for cannabis include:
Packaging must have resealable features
Packaging must exhibit a clear and detailed information label
Packaging must have an opaque appearance
Packaging must make product unappealing and unattractive to children
CR compliance requires that packaging undergo rigorous tests. The general concept is for the packaging to be difficult for children under 5 to open, while simultaneously being easy for adults to open and close.
These regulations create an immensely safer product for children. However, these same regulations limit the creative opportunities that normal packaging can provide, making most packaging for cannabis unattractive for adults.
CR Regulations & Packaging Challenges
Although CR regulations for cannabis products are vital to keeping children safe, these regulations cause a lot of roadblocks in the creative department.
Follow these tips to create a high-quality, CR-compliant cannabis carton packaging that the market will love.One of the most significant impacts these regulations have made on cannabis companies is the difficulty to align a brand image with these regulations. Every company has a brand image with which they need to align their entire marketing plan, including packaging designs. Add in strict CR regulations, and it becomes extremely difficult to balance the two.
Another key challenge in this process is structural design limitations. Businesses use inventive and innovative structural designs to help differentiate their products in a growing and crowded market. Cannabis products experience a significant disadvantage here. Cannabis companies must incorporate an opaque appearance and resealable features while also attempting to design a packaging structure that is attractive and eye-catching to consumers.
Designing CR-Compliant Cannabis Packaging that is Appealing to Adults
Although CR requirements make it challenging for companies to inject creativity into packaging designs, innovative solutions in the market do exist. These offer the best of both worlds by meeting the necessary CR guidelines, while maximizing branding, structural elements and print effects.
Incorporate Captivating Colors
Since there are no color restrictions for CR packaging, one of the best ways for a brand to express itself is through color. Companies are free to express themselves to tell a brand story utilizing unique colors in their packaging.
Before choosing a color palette, brands should ensure that packaging designs meet overall branding requirements. Consistency across branding, marketing and other avenues, will make any brand more recognizable and memorable. Colors can also set cannabis products apart from the hundreds of other products.
Get Creative with Structural Design
Although CR regulations seem extremely restricting structurally, there are plenty of ways to still have a structurally appealing cannabis carton packaging while still in compliance with CR regulations. Just remember that cannabis packaging must be resealable and opaque.
In order to capitalize on your structural design process, experiment with different carton structures. Generally, carton packaging is rectangular or square but there’s ample opportunity for a variety of forms. Experimenting with designs, whether a straight carton or cartons with built-in trays, is an important step in finding the best packaging design that protects, promotes and differentiates the product it holds.
Never Overlook Print Effects & Finishes
Print effects and finishes are often an afterthought for cannabis carton packaging. Print effects and specialty finishes can make all the difference when looking for ways to set any cannabis product apart. The perfect finishing can take an average cannabis carton to the next level. Popular print effects include:
EmbossingJust because you have to stay aligned with CR regulations doesn’t mean that packaging should be plain and unattractive.
Embossing is the art of incorporating a raised image, design, or pretty much any textural component in a packaging’s design. The process of embossing allows for artwork and specific elements to stand out against the background of the paperboard material.
Debossing, as its name implies, is the opposite of embossing. Instead of creating a raised pattern, debossing creates a pressed imprint. It’s a great way to create a tactile experience and bring something extra to a packaging design while staying compliant with CR regulations.
Embossing and debossing can be used in conjunction with a variety of foil effects and other print finishing processes.
Making Interactive Experiences
The packaging is only as memorable as the process of opening it. Making packaging memorable requires focusing on creating an experience. Elements such as reveal flaps, tear-aways, doors and more are unique ways to add interactivity to a package design. This is great for increasing engagement and brand loyalty within your target market. Who says adults can’t have fun too?
Just because you have to stay aligned with CR regulations doesn’t mean that packaging should be plain and unattractive. Follow these tips to create a high-quality, CR-compliant cannabis carton packaging that the market will love.
The majority of this cost will not be picked up by private health insurers but rather the federal governmentActually, according to industry analysis, this is about 70% more than the price of one comparable drug (Onfi), and slightly more expensive than Banzel, the two competing (non-cannabinoid based) medications now available in the U.S. for this market.
Here is the other (widely unreported) kicker. The majority of this cost will not be picked up by private health insurers but rather the federal government, which is also not negotiating with GW Pharma about that high price (unlike for example what is going on in Europe and the German bid).
Why the difference?
Two reasons. The first is that Epidiolex has obtained “orphan drug” status (a medication for a disease that affects fewer than 200,000 patients in the U.S.) The second is that the majority of the insurance that will be picking up this tab is Medicaid. The patient pool will be unable to afford this. As a result, the bulk of the money will remit not from private insurance companies but rather federal taxpayers. And, unlike in say, Germany, none of this is pre-negotiated in bulk.
Co-payments are expected to range from $5 to $200 per month per patient after insurance (read: the government) picks up the tab. This essentially means that the company plans to base participation at first at least on a sliding scale, highly subsidized by a government that has yet to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I in the U.S.
Creating, in other words, a new monopoly position for GW Pharmaceuticals in North America.
A Hypocrisy Both Patients And The Industry Should Fight
The sordid, underhanded politicking that has created this canna monster is hardly surprising given the current political environment in both the U.S. and the U.K. right now. The people who benefit the most from this development are not patients, or even everyday shareholders, not to mention the burgeoning legitimate North American cannabis industry, but in fact highly placed politicians (like British Prime Minister Theresa May). Philip May, the PM’s husband’s firm is the majority shareholder in GW Pharma. Her former drugs minister (with a strong stand against medical cannabis) is married to the managing director of British Sugar, the company that grows GW Pharma’s cannabis stock domestically.
So far, despite a domestic outcry over this in the UK (including rescheduling), there has been no political backlash in the United States over this announcement. Why not?
Look To Europe For A More Competitive Medical Market
This kind of pricing strategy is also a complete no go in just about every other market – including medical-only markets where GW Pharma already has a footprint.
For example, German health insurers are already complaining about this kind of pricing strategy for cannabis (see the Cannabis Report from one of the country’s largest insurers TK – out earlier this year). And this in an environment where the government, in fact, does negotiate a bulk rate for most of the drugs in the market. Currently most German cannabis patients are being given dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC which costs far less.
On top of this, there are also moves afoot by the German government to begin to bring the costs of medical cannabis and medicines down, dramatically. And this too will impact the market – not only in Europe, but hopefully spark a debate in every country where prices are also too high.
The currently pending German cultivation bid for medical cannabis has already set an informal “reference” price of at most 7 euros a gram (and probably will see bid competitors come in at under half that). In other words, the government wholesale price of raw, unprocessed cannabis flower if not lightly processed cannabis oil is expected to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3-4 euros per gram come early next year. If not, as some expect, potentially even lower than that.
Processed Cannabis Medicine vs. Whole Plant Treatment
The debate that is really raging, beyond pricing, is whether unprocessed cannabis and cannabis oil is actually “medicine.” At the moment, the status quo in the U.S. is that it is not.
GW Pharmaceuticals, in other words, a British company importing a CBD-based derivative, is the only real “medical cannabis” company in the country, per the FDA. Everyone else, at least according to this logic, is placed in the “recreational camp.” And further, hampered still, with a lack of rescheduling, that affects everyone.
If that is not an organizing issue for the American cannabis industry, still struggling with the many issues inherent in the status quo (from insurance coverage and banking to national distribution across state lines) leading up to the midterms, nothing will be.
According to a press release, last week GW Pharmaceuticals’ drug Epidiolex received a positive FDA panel review, which is an encouraging and important step towards getting the drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and on the market in the United States. Epidiolex is an anti-epilepsy drug, taken in a syrup form, with the main active ingredient being cannabidiol (CBD), and less than 0.1 % THC.
The drug is targeted to treat Dravet syndrome (DS) and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) a rare early-onset type of epilepsy found in children, according to Reuters. FDA staff said the drug “reduces seizure frequency in patients with drug-resistant LGS or DS while maintaining a predictable and manageable safety profile.”
GW Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1998 and based in London, is a biopharmaceutical company that has made headlines previously for developing cannabis-derived drugs. Sativex, one of the first drugs they developed, is derived from cannabis, but was not approved by the FDA. It is however available in other parts of the world, such as the EU, Israel and Canada.
If Epidiolex actually gets approval by the FDA, it will be the first-ever cannabis-derived drug available via prescription in all of the United States. According to Justin Gover, chief executive officer of GW Pharmaceuticals, this is a momentous breakthrough for the company. “We are pleased by the Advisory Committee’s unanimous recommendation to approve Epidiolex, which would provide an important treatment option for patients with LGS and Dravet syndrome, two of the most severe and treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy,” says Gover “This favorable outcome marks an important milestone in our company’s unwavering commitment to address the significant unmet need for patients with LGS and Dravet syndrome and our resolve to study Epidiolex under the highest research and manufacturing standards. We look forward to our ongoing discussions with the FDA as it continues to review the Epidiolex NDA.”
According to the GW press release, the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee of the FDA unanimously recommended supporting the approval of the New Drug Application (NDA) for the drug. That advisory committee is sort of like an independent panel; their unanimous vote doesn’t necessarily mean the drug will get approved, but the FDA takes their decision into consideration when approving new drugs. So this panel recommendation is certainly a good sign and shows this drug could potentially be on the path to FDA approval.
Back in April of 2016, the Colorado Legislature passed HB 1436 in an effort to make infused products less appealing to children. On October 1st, 2017, the new law goes into effect, which will prohibit the sale of edibles in the shape of a human, animal or fruit.
Colorado has a history of regulating the market like this, with laws designed to limit the dosing, consistency and appeal of edibles to children. In 2015, regulators placed a 100-milligram cap on THC in infused products, separated into 10-milligram servings. In 2016, regulators began requiring the THC stamp on edibles, a symbol with a clear representation of what the product contains.
Some in the industry are welcoming of these new laws, while others think it might be overregulation. Regardless, manufacturers that have previously produced things like fruit candies or gummy bears now need to update their processes to use non-descript shapes for their products in order to stay compliant.
Bob Eschino, founder and president of Incredibles, an infused product manufacturer in Colorado, says these rules are not very effective at preventing kids from obtaining edibles, but it could help. “I believe consumer protection comes from CRP [child-resistant packaging], proper labeling, education and safe storage,” says Eschino. “CDPHE said themselves that stamping or shaping the products is the least effective way to prevent accidental ingestion. It’s a step that will add to consumer protection in a small way, but every little bit helps for now.” There are a number of more effective measures that regulators in Colorado take to prevent edibles from getting in the hands of children, such as child-resistant packaging, prohibiting advertising of cartoon characters, requiring opaque packaging and warning messages on labels.
According to Peggy Moore, partner of Love’s Oven, an infused product manufacturer, and board president of the Cannabis Business Alliance, the major change companies need to make to stay compliant is ordering new molds. “Depending on the quantity ordered, molds can cost $10,000 or more to fabricate and produce.,” says Moore. “If a company was not using molds previously there is also training that may be required to orient production staff on technique for making molded confections.” She says there are still plenty of options for manufacturers to use like botanical shapes (a cannabis leaf, for example), circles, squares, rectangles and other shapes.
Her company, Love’s Oven, makes caramels, baked goods, crackers and other non-descript shapes already. “At this point I am not aware of any manufacturers who are not already compliant with this rule in advance,” says Moore. “The most common solution is to move to a square, circle or other shape utilizing molds. “ Moore believes it is a producer’s duty to make products that are not enticing to children. “Regardless of the industry (alcohol, cannabis, pharma) I think we should exercise great caution to not produce products that are targeting children,” says Moore. “While I would love to see manufacturers self-regulate in this regard, clearly some guardrail regulations are needed at this point.”
In addition to the rule on using non-descript shapes, HB 1436 prohibits the use of additives in retail cannabis products that are designed to make it addictive, more appealing to children or misleading consumers. The rule does, however, exclude common baking and cooking ingredients. There is also a stipulation that permits local fire departments to perform annual fire inspections at cannabis cultivation facilities.
The government of Canada published a press release on April 13th proposing a piece of legislation, the Cannabis Act, which would regulate the industry by July of 2018. The press release puts a heavy emphasis on keeping cannabis away from children, curbing impaired driving and reducing criminal and organized crime profits.
The press release says the legislation would set up a regulatory framework “for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada.” It would set the minimum age to purchase cannabis at 18, but provinces can increase that minimum age how they see fit. Health Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Department of Public Safety would be responsible for enforcing the regulations.
The Cannabis Act states they plan on implementing a fully functioning regulatory framework by July of 2018. Transporting cannabis across international borders or selling to minors would be serious criminal offenses. If the legislation becomes law, adults could have up to 30 grams of cannabis on their person and grow up to four plants in their home.
Individual provinces would ultimately be the regulating authorities, but if local jurisdictions do not have a regulatory framework in place, the press release says Canadians could purchase cannabis online and have it shipped to them. In addition to establishing the regulatory framework, the Cannabis Act would tighten laws on impaired driving. “Additionally, the proposed legislation would authorize new tools for police to better detect drivers who have drugs in their body,” reads the press release. That would give the police authorization to use oral fluid drug screeners, but cannabis is particularly difficult to detect at low concentrations. It is unclear exactly how that would be enforced and specifically what technology they would use.
In a Facebook post this morning, Justin Trudeau announced the proposed legislation to his followers. “It’s too easy for our kids to get marijuana,” says the Prime Minister. “We’re going to change that.” That mention of keeping cannabis out of reach of the Canadian youth is heavily emphasized in the press release as well.
Oregon cannabis regulators began enforcing new rules over the weekend when the October 1st compliance deadline passed. Compared to the relatively cut-and-dried new Colorado regulations, the Oregon cannabis market faces more complex and changing regulatory compliance issues.
The new rules in Oregon address changes to testing, packaging and labeling regulations along with concentration and serving size limits, according to a bulletin published by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) earlier this week. Most of the new rules are meant to add safeguards for public health and consumer safety, while putting an emphasis on keeping cannabis away from children.
Around the same time, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) published a bulletin with a new temporary rule that is meant to prevent marketing to children. The OLCC’s temporary rule clarifies “restrictions on product wording commonly associated with products marketed by or to children.” The OLCC reviewed around 500 strain names and found roughly 20 of them that could appeal to children. The OLCC will not approve labels that include strain names like Girl Scout Cookies, Candyland and Charlotte’s Web, among others. This means that breeders and growers have to change strain names on labels like Death Star, Skywalker and Jedi Kush because they contain a reference to the Star Wars franchise, which is marketed to children.
The new testing regulations establish requirements for testing cannabis products for THC and CBD concentrations, water activity, moisture content, pesticides and solvents in concentrates. They also stipulate that ORELAP-accredited laboratories must perform the testing. In the time leading up to the compliance deadline, many lacked confidence that ORELAP would accredit enough laboratories to meet the demand for testing. “We have heard from existing accredited labs that they can meet demand for cannabis product testing,” says Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the OHA. “We don’t yet know how much product requires testing, so we can’t speculate on whether labs will indeed be able to meet demand.” It is still unclear at this time if there are enough laboratories to perform all of the testing for cannabis products in the state.
At this time, 16 laboratories have been accredited for some form of testing, but only four labs have been accredited for pesticide testing. A list of the labs that ORELAP has accredited can be found here. Notably, only one lab is accredited for testing microbiological contaminants, such as E. coli. Testing for microbiological contaminants is not required for all cannabis products sold, rather it is only required upon written request by the OHA or OLCC.
The new labeling and packaging requirements concern testing, consumer education, childproofing and preventing marketing to minors. All cannabis products must contain a label that has been pre-approved by the OLCC. “Cannabis products have to be clearly labeled, showing that is has been tested, or if it has not been tested then it must display ‘does not meet new testing requirements’,” says Modie. “It [the label] must be clear, legible and readable, so they [the consumer] know exactly what it contains, including what cannabis product is inside the package, how much of it, how much THC, and where the product came from.”
According to Modie, it is particularly important that the packaging is not attractive to minors. Cartoons, designs and names that resemble non-cannabis products intended for, or marketed to children, should not be on the packaging or label. “Part of our education to the public and recreational cannabis users focuses on keeping these products out of reach of children in the first place, like storing cannabis in a locked area or an area where a child cannot reach or see,” says Modie. “Our goal is always to protect public health.”
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