Tag Archives: closure

“Keep the Buds Fresh” – Packaging & Paraphernalia Laws

By Justin T. Starling, Michael C. Tackeff
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Cannabis law in the U.S. is currently incoherent. What is illegal under the federal laws on the books bears little relation to what is actually happening in cities, states and counties where cannabis is legal for medical and adult use. Although legislators, lawyers and business interests are focused primarily on whether it is legal to buy, sell or grow the cannabis flower itself, the industry’s emergence is also affecting another manufacturing stalwart: packaging. If you can grow it, you can transport it. And if you can transport it, you need a container to sell it in.

As cannabis growers and retailers begin to recognize that attractive, compelling and moisture-retentive packaging can help market and sell their products to a wider audience, packaging companies are presented with an opportunity to expand into this Wild West industry. Seth Rogen is living proof that there is money to be made here: his cannabis company, Houseplant, trades on antique vibes, limited edition releases, celebrity artist sponsorships and old-school tobacco-adjacent products, splashing its unique and charismatic packaging across its website homepage.

But what do packaging industry executives need to know before venturing into the cannabis industry? Although manufacturing packaging that could be used to contain or transport cannabis products is not entirely risk-free, U.S. courts have generally refused in the past to hold manufacturers liable for making products that can be used later as drug paraphernalia. For packaging executives, two questions are of utmost importance. First, could I be held liable for producing drug paraphernalia? And second, what packaging standards must my company follow? This article will address these questions.

Criminal Status of Cannabis Under Federal & State Law 

All cannabis containing more than 0.3% THC remains illegal under federal law and under the laws of many large states, including Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and Iowa. But that’s not the full story. While facilitating cannabis production or trafficking is illegal, the federal government has enforcement priorities and restrictions on its resources. And many state and federal law enforcement officials have little incentive to pursue industries supplying trucks, packaging or lighting to a cannabis retailer in another state, as such products and services are not illegal and can be used for other industrial purposes. No law enforcement official is going to sue Staples for selling paperclips to a cannabis retailer.

Cannabis is still a “Schedule I” substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which is defined as substance having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and no accepted safe use.1 Cannabis was always a poor fit for this definition, given its efficacy in helping oncology patients cope with symptoms like nausea, but its continued classification as a Schedule I substance means that cannabis remains illegal under federal law. Despite this federal illegality, the federal government has little power—legally, practically and politically—to prosecute those engaged in the cannabis industry through activities that are legal under state law.

First, since 2014, Congress has banned the Department of Justice (DOJ) from spending a dime enforcing the federal cannabis law against individuals complying with state medical cannabis law via an appropriations rider.2 Courts have interpreted this language to mean that the DOJ may not prosecute individuals complying with state medical cannabis law,3 although there are still instances where individuals are convicted of violating the federal ban because they were found to have been out of compliance with state law.4 Though the rider only pertains to medical cannabis laws, the federal government has historically treated adult use cannabis regimes by states in a similar way.

Second, from a practical standpoint, no federal agency has the manpower to pursue even a tiny fraction of medical and adult cannabis users who are in compliance with state law, much less the industries providing support, logistics and inventory management. Though the federal ban is still on the books, no one has the power or the money to enforce it. The federal ban is thus becoming a dead letter.

Drug Paraphernalia Laws

Drug paraphernalia laws were written to provide law enforcement with other offenses to charge drug users and producers in addition to simple possession. The idea was to criminalize every aspect of the process of consuming and producing cannabis. While drug paraphernalia laws are written incredibly broadly, courts have been reluctant to apply them to companies producing packaging products.

Most packaging companies would have a defense to a suit alleging they are producing paraphernalia

Federal law explicitly defines drug paraphernalia as “any equipment, product, or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance, possession of which is unlawful under this subchapter.”5 There are 15 categories of items listed as “per se” paraphernalia, including roach clips, electric pipes, and bongs.6 Packaging products do not fit any of the “per se” categories. The statute also specifies that, in determining whether an item constitutes drug paraphernalia, the court must consider “whether the owner, or anyone in control of the item, is a legitimate supplier of like or related items to the community, such as a licensed distributor or dealer of tobacco products[,]” among other factors.7

In addition, federal courts have been reluctant to apply the drug paraphernalia laws to packaging products.8 In addressing the predecessor statute to the current federal paraphernalia law,9 the Second Circuit ordered an indictment dismissed against a producer of glass vials commonly used for crack cocaine: “Since congress in enacting the Paraphernalia Act deliberately omitted ‘packaging’, ‘containing’, and ‘cocaine vials’ from its definition of drug paraphernalia, we conclude that the plastic containers produced by Lin were not ‘drug paraphernalia’ as defined by the act.”10 The law is not uniform, but even if a zealous federal prosecutor wants to crusade against a cannabis supplier, he must contend with the appropriations rider and this adverse case law.

Nevertheless, the federal Controlled Substances Act does allow property used to manufacture narcotics to be seized.11 It is possible that if a company created packaging for cannabis products, and the customer then used that packaging to pack cannabis, the inventory and packaging could be seized by federal law enforcement. But the same obstacles to enforcement discussed above would apply.

Every state has different paraphernalia laws, but most packaging companies would likely have defenses to a suit alleging they are producing or possessing paraphernalia, including lack of intent to use the paraphernalia for illicit purposes and applying federal caselaw as a defense.

Packaging Laws

State law is the primary vehicle for regulatory guidance on cannabis packaging. Any packaging company selling to cannabis retailers will need to consider both state law and federal packaging standards, which are often incorporated by reference into state law.

Federal Packaging Law

Producing a product that complies with all state standards at once might be a challenge, but adhering to individual state rules is doable.

The Poison Prevention Packaging Act is the primary source of child-resistant packaging law.12 This law does not currently apply at all to any sales of cannabis because cannabis is illegal in the eyes of federal law. There is no private right of action under this statute.13 That means that a packaging company cannot be sued by a private individual for violating the statute. At some point, if Congress chooses to loosen restrictions on cannabis, this would be a very easy statute to simply make applicable to sales of cannabis. The law already has a specific provision for liquid nicotine containers.14 But currently, this statute does not apply to cannabis at all.

State Packaging Laws

State laws are a different matter – each state that allows sales of medical or adult use cannabis has enacted different requirements for cannabis packaging. A comprehensive survey of state cannabis packaging law is beyond the scope of this article, but some state cannabis regulatory regimes explicitly incorporate provisions of the federal Poison Prevention Packaging Act.15 California has a similar requirement, as does Washington state.16 Producing a product that complies with all state standards at once (i.e., a “national” standard) might be a challenge. Contracts with buyers could include a representation that the packaging complies only with the laws of state X or Y.

Products Liability Issues

A detailed assessment of products liability is beyond the scope of this article. But in short, as this industry matures, packaging companies undoubtedly will be subject to the usual kinds of products liability issues for cannabis packaging. In other words, in a cannabis-tolerant state, a packaging company could theoretically be sued under a products liability theory if the cannabis is somehow spoiled by a manufacturing defect in the packaging or if the packaging product permits mold to grow and eventually be consumed by a user. Cannabis contract litigation is a complex subject given its unique legal status. One strategy to avoid these issues is to include a very specific dispute resolution procedure (e.g., mediation, arbitration or the like) in any contracts with cannabis companies in the U.S. It is also important to include a waiver of any defenses of the contract being against public policy due to the uncertain legal status of cannabis.

No transaction in the cannabis industry is entirely risk-free, and packaging executives should consult with local counsel in the states in which the packaging is manufactured and in the states in which they intend to sell products to ensure compliance with the law. But this industry is rapidly growing, and opportunity awaits for the packaging companies that are willing to work through the incoherence in the current laws.


References

  1. 21 U.S.C. § 812.
  2. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-93, § 531, 133 Stat. 2317, 2431 (Dec. 20, 2019).
  3. United States v. McIntosh, 833 F.3d 1163, 1179 (9th Cir. 2016).
  4. United States v. Trevino, No. 20-1104, 2021 WL 3235751, at *4 (6th Cir. July 30, 2021) (Michigan dispensary owner could never have been in compliance with Michigan’s medical cannabis laws given his prior felony conviction for cocaine possession).
  5. 21 U.S.C. § 863(d); see also generally United States v. Assorted Drug Paraphernalia, 90 F. Supp. 3d 1222, 1229 (D.N.M. 2015).
  6. 21 U.S.C. § 863(d)(1).
  7. 21 U.S.C. § 863(e)(5); see also 21 U.S.C. § 863(f)(2) (specific exemption for items exported or sold through the mail, “and traditionally intended for use with tobacco products, including any pipe, paper, or accessory”).
  8. Posters ‘N’ Things, Ltd. v. United States, 511 U.S. 513, 526 (1994) (“Similarly here, we need not address the possible application of § 857 to a legitimate merchant engaging in the sale of only multiple-use items.”) (head shop case where establishment was devoted substantially to drug paraphernalia).
  9. 21 U.S.C. § 863; see also 511 U.S. at 516 n.5.
  10. United States v. Hong-Liang Lin, 962 F.2d 251, 258 (2d Cir. 1992); see also United States v. Big Apple Bag Co., 306 F. Supp. 2d 331, 334 (E.D.N.Y.), on reconsideration in part, 317 F. Supp. 2d 181 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (“[T]he Second Circuit has determined that trafficking in items that are used merely to package or contain drugs does not violate 21 U.S.C. § 863.”). But see also United States v. Main St. Distrib. Inc., 700 F. Supp. 655, 659–60 (E.D.N.Y. 1988) (no legitimate market for glass stirrers used in crack pipes, and where customs agent had placed dummy order using common street term for crack pipes; denying company’s motion to suppress).
  11. 21 U.S.C. § 881 (a)(3) (“The following shall be subject to forfeiture to the United States and no property right shall exist in them: All property which is used, or intended for use, as a container for property described in paragraph (1), (2), or (9).”).
  12. 15 U.S.C. § 1471 et seq.; 16 C.F.R. § 1700.20(a)(2)(iii).
  13. Doane v. Metal Bluing Prod., Inc., 568 F. Supp. 744, 746 (N.D.N.Y. 1983).
  14. 15 U.S.C. § 1472a.
  15. See, e.g., Fla. Stat. Ann. § 381.986(8)(e)(11)(e) (“When processing marijuana, a medical marijuana treatment center must: Package the marijuana in compliance with the United States Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, 15 U.S.C. ss. 1471 et seq.”).
  16. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 26120(a) (“Prior to delivery or sale at a retailer, cannabis and cannabis products shall be labeled and placed in a tamper-evident, child-resistant package and shall include a unique identifier for the purposes of identifying and tracking cannabis and cannabis products. If the cannabis or cannabis product contains multiple servings, the package shall also be resealable.”); Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 26001(i) (“‘Child resistant’ means designed or constructed to be significantly difficult for children under five years of age to open, and not difficult for normal adults to use properly.”) (identical to federal standard); see also Wash. Admin. Code 314-55-105(2)(b)(i) (all cannabis concentrates must be packaged consistent with the Poison Prevention Packaging Act).

Custom Designed Packaging: Is it Right for Your Cannabis Product?

By Danielle Antos
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There are numerous plastic bottle and closure manufacturers in the cannabis industry today. And, there is a significant quantity of common bottle and closure styles as well. Many companies manufacture the same or similar products as their competition. But what if you’re searching for something different? Something unique that no one else has? A plastic bottle that will make your cannabis product stand out from your competition. Where can you find that package that is truly “something special?” Something that will elevate your brand?

It doesn’t matter if your cannabis business is a start-up in its infancy or a mature company with an established loyal customer following, creating attention-grabbing packaging is essential to your success. The packaging is the all-important and critical first impression. While the primary function of any packaging is to contain, protect and market your cannabis products, your packaging is a reflection of your company in the eyes of the consumer. In many ways, the package is the product. Using creative plastic packaging is a great way to differentiate your cannabis products from those of your competitors.

Finding the right manufacturing partner is the first step. Look for a company that has custom design capabilities and understands your vision for the perfect cannabis packaging.

When is Custom Bottle Design the Right Choice?

Sometimes, an off-the-shelf stock bottle and closure will work just fine. But if you are introducing a brand-new product that is unique to the industry, or if you are using a new product to introduce the fresh new look of your brand, it makes sense to develop plastic packaging that is distinct and eye-catching. You want your brand and products to look special and stand out on the shelf. There could also be filling equipment, regulatory, labelling, light sensitivity or other packaging requirements you must address as well.

Start every custom cannabis bottle project with a trusted manufacturer who thoroughly understands how you want the plastic packaging to look and the specifications it must meet. Ensuring that these qualitative and quantitative details are discussed will lead to on-time, on-budget and on-target custom cannabis packaging solution.

Achieving the Look You Want

Depending on your requirements, there could be several solutions to achieving the special look and specifications of your custom packaging. Discuss all of the design options that meet the needs of your product with your manufacturing partner; they should help you decide on the best direction for your packaging.

Selecting the right materials for your custom plastic bottle and closure is a big part of the process. Select materials that will provide the necessary aesthetics, chemical resistance, light transmission, bottle capacity and weight requirement that will protect your product.

Your manufacturer should also be able to guide you through the production process: should the bottle be blow molded or injection molded? Should it be made on IBM (Injection Blow Molding) equipment or EBM (Extruded Blow Molding) equipment? Answering these questions will ensure that the plastic bottle will be made efficiently and to the correct specifications.

Flawless Closure Integration for Your Cannabis Packaging

Designing the bottle is important, but you must also consider what type of closure will work best. Both items must be engineered to work seamlessly with each other. If the closure doesn’t work properly with the bottle, it can compromise the product it contains. Closures must always seal perfectly to ensure the integrity of the product inside. They must also be designed to function efficiently and meet the requirements of your filling operation.

A detailed CAD drawing should be provided, outlining every critical dimension of your HDPE or PET bottle and plastic closure. The CAD drawing provides the direction needed to create the manufacturing mold for your custom design. It also serves as a reference check to ensure that the product is produced according to your specs.

Ensure Quality through the Manufacturing Process

Ensure that your packaging partner has quality checks in place throughout the manufacturing process. Error detection systems, random sampling and testing will safeguard 100% conformity. It’s also important that manufacturers adhere to cGMP best practices and certifications under a globally recognized accredited program. This represents their commitment to continuously improving manufacturing processes and quality systems. It also helps minimize waste and manufacturing errors while increasing productivity. Risk of product contamination and other errors will be alleviated, and product efficacy and shelf life expectancy will be met.

Responsive Customer Service and Support

Many packaging manufacturers claim to provide exceptional customer service, but few actually rise up to that level. This is an important aspect of your project and you need to know that your questions will be answered and that your producer will keep you informed of any changes. Knowing that you can trust your supplier allows you to concentrate on other aspects of your business, like growth and profitability.

Reinforce Your Brand with Customized Packaging

In today’s competitive cannabis market, it’s more important than ever to have your product stand out from the competition. Your brand should help build awareness and develop consumer loyalty. When you deliver a consistently reinforced message, consumers will instantly recognize your brand. This consistency is a key factor in encouraging consumers to purchase your product over the competition — even when they want to try something new. Consistency makes your brand feel more dependable and people gravitate towards things they trust.

Your brand consists of more than just your logo and company name. Your brand identifies who you are, what your company stands for and the integrity of your product. Customized cannabis packaging will reinforce your brand and attract consumers to your products. Take time to find the right cannabis packaging partner who can help differentiate your brand and products from your competitors with special, eye-catching plastic packaging.

Keep Your Cannabis Product Safe with Dependable Packaging

By Danielle Antos
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No matter what type of packaging you select for your cannabis product, it needs to be dependable. Packaging is not only the first impression of your company to consumers; it must securely contain and protect the product inside. No one wants to purchase products inside packaging that looks dirty or isn’t sealed properly – it is imperative that packaging looks clean and safe to consumers. How does your cannabis packaging stack up? Is it sealed properly? Is it clean and defect-free? Does it conform to the ever-changing regulations?

Using plastic bottles and closures is a great way to secure your cannabis product and showcase your brand. Plastic cannabis packaging offers many different options: bottles can be produced using sustainable materials and come in many different shapes and capacities. Typical closures are child-resistant, lined or unlined, and with a text or pictorial top.

Because packaging performs so many functions for your cannabis business, it is important to realize that not all plastic bottles and closures are the same. High density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and closures are widely used for cannabis packaging. Keep in mind that bottle selection is only half of the equation. Equally important is selecting a closure that works with the bottle and has the right features you need.

So, how do you select the right plastic closure for your cannabis bottles? Your packaging manufacturer should be able to guide you towards the solution that’s right for you. However, there are several key factors that will help you identify a superior packaging solution.

Closure Seal

Unevenly manufactured bottle tops can result in poor closure seals and an increased risk of product contamination. Choosing the incorrect lining material can lead to poor protection of your product or may not provide the proper tamper evidence required by regulatory agencies.

A bad seal can also jeopardize the freshness of your cannabis product. It can cause the flower to become excessively dry, resulting in overfilling to make up for weight loss. Situations like these can lead to higher product costs for your company.

Child-Resistant

What’s more important than keeping cannabis out of the hands of children? Child-resistant (CR) packaging not only increases safety; it instills consumer trust in your products and your brand. A closure that doesn’t fit the bottle can prevent the bottle and closure from working properly together, leading to possible accidents if the product is around children. CR closures are available in many different styles and functions – from traditional push-and-turn systems to snap caps and more.

Individual states are cracking down on child-resistant packaging certification for cannabis products. Although FDA approval is not currently required, it will be in the future. Be a leader in the cannabis industry and make preparations now to be compliant with future regulations.

Senior-Friendly

Closures can be child-resistant and at the same time be senior-friendly. Select closures that enable use by individuals who may have problems opening traditional capping systems. Innovative companies are designing closure systems that can be both safe for children as well as easy-to-open for those who have difficulty using their hands.

Compatible Bottles

Be sure that the closure you select works correctly with your chosen bottle. Can your packaging partner manufacture and supply closures that guarantee complete functionality with the bottle to protect your product? Closures produced by the same manufacturer as the bottles will ease your mind that the closure and bottle function correctly together. A one-stop-shop approach will also save you time and money.

Country of Origin

Is the packaging you use manufactured in the United States? Plastic bottles and closures manufactured overseas may have impurities in the resin or colorant that could leach or bleed into your cannabis products. They may not have documentation of origin or comply with FDA regulations. Your cannabis packaging partner should be able to provide this documentation so you can rest assured that your bottles and closures are manufactured under strict guidelines for the safety of your consumers and that your product won’t be affected. In today’s emerging cannabis market, there are stringent regulations on all types of cannabis packaging. If you use packaging that does not conform to regulations, you are putting your company at risk for product recalls, decreased sales due to low consumer confidence and other undesirable risks.

Selecting poor closures and bottles for your cannabis packaging can have long-term consequences. Not only will your brand be diminished, but your profitability will be reduced as well. Understanding how to identify the characteristics of quality plastic packaging that can help you avoid declining consumer confidence and lost sales. Work with a plastic packaging manufacturer that understands how important perfect quality is to your business.

Want Strong Profits for Your Cannabis Business? Start by Building Your Brand

By Danielle Antos
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Everyone knows that the packaging of your cannabis product creates the first impression for a potential customer. However, product packaging is sometimes an overlooked detail for new and existing cannabis businesses. The packaging design for your cannabis product is vital to establishing your brand and building a loyal customer base. Packaging impacts your product significantly: it must keep your products safe and secure, but it also has to help you increase your sales volume and bottom line. Ultimately, a well-executed and managed brand translates into increased profitability.

Today, plastic HDPE, LDPE, PP and PET bottles and closures are widely-accepted packaging options for cannabis products. Plastic packaging offers abundant choices, but how do you know which plastic bottle and closure is right for your product? Here is a checklist that will help you create packaging that hits the target.

Know Your Competitors

Do your research and check out the competition. What are other cannabis companies doing? What type of plastic packaging do they use and is it high quality? What is their message and are they consistently branding their packaging across all product lines? How can your cannabis packaging stand out and attract attention? This knowledge will help you to define your brand and how you can differentiate your cannabis products from your competitors with the right packaging.

Appeal to Your Target Audience

Your cannabis products can’t fulfill the needs of all consumers, so define the type of consumer you are trying to reach. Tailor your message to the specific groups that meet your brand’s criteria. Consider demographics such as lifestyle, age, location and gender. Also consider what is important to them. For example: is your target audience concerned about the environment? If so, consider plastic packaging alternatives such as Bioresin. Polyethylene produced from ethanol made from sustainable sources like sugarcane, commonly known as Bioresin, are becoming more common. Bioresin bottles have the same properties and look the same as traditional plastics, so it is easy to convert. Defining what speaks to your target consumer will help you determine which plastic packaging option to choose for your cannabis product.

Convey Your Message to Consumers

How do you want consumers to perceive your cannabis product, company, and values? What expectations will it meet? Take Coca-Cola for example. It’s an instantly recognizable brand because of consistent use of the same style and color packaging, along with a universally-appealing message of refreshment, taste and satisfaction. Coca-Cola’s messaging has remained consistent over decades and it fulfills the expectations of consumers – they know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase it.

The message on your cannabis packaging should reflect your company values, fulfill customer expectations and of course, be eye-catching and promote the product inside. Packaging should also convey your brand information consistently and across all product lines. Consumers will become accustomed to your brand and will trust your products.

Make Your Product Stand Out

Once your brand message is defined, you can move forward with selecting the right plastic packaging. There are many crucial points to consider in the selection process. For example, if providing the freshest products to the consumer is critical, then select plastic bottles and closures that ensure your product does not become stale or contaminated. If protecting consumers is part of your brand message, then select bottles and closures that meet federal and state regulations for child safety, that are manufactured with FDA-approved materials, and that meet ASTM certifications.

The product branding process can be intimidating. Overcome your fears by working with a plastic packaging manufacturer that fits your needs. Sometimes an off-the-shelf HDPE bottle or plastic closure just won’t do. Unique bottle shapes, the use of colored resins, and switching to plastic packaging made with sustainable materials are options that will showcase your cannabis product and help increase visibility in the marketplace. Look for a plastic manufacturer with diverse capabilities and packaging ingenuity. A manufacturer that offers a diverse product line and also can develop customized bottles and closures to your exact specifications and appearance will be a great asset to you. They can guide you through the process to ensure that you get a product that will help differentiate your brand and make your product stand out.

Follow Through

Consistent and targeted branding based on thorough research is a proven approach to creating a strong brand. When your brand message is applied to all of your plastic packaging across your cannabis product lines, a stronger and more recognizable brand is created. Remember to follow through with your brand messaging across all other channels of communication such as: print advertising, signs at your business’ location, on your website and through your online marketing efforts. Your sales and customer service staff should also reinforce your brand message when meeting with customers and prospects. A thoughtful and well-planned strategy for your brand will help increase sales and grow your new start-up or established cannabis business.