Tag Archives: label

Bad Actors in CBD: How to Distinguish Quality Products From the Rest

By Joseph Dowling
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The success of reputable cannabis and CBD brands has inspired an influx of inexperienced and disreputable competitors in the market. These so-called “bad actors” in CBD advertise products that are not manufactured under current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), which help to ensure that all products are consistently produced and controlled according to specified quality standards. cGMP helps guard against risks of adulteration, cross-contamination and mislabeling to guarantee product quality, safety and efficacy.

Joseph Dowling, Author & CEO of CV Sciences

CBD products without cGMP regulations are often inaccurately labeled and deceiving to consumers. In fact, in a test of over 100 CBD products available online and at retail locations, Johns Hopkins Medicine found significant evidence of inaccurate, misleading labeling of CBD content. The prevalence of such brands not only reduces consumer confidence in CBD but also limits the growth of the sector as a whole. Fortunately, CBD consumers and retailers can easily discriminate between a well-tested, reputable brand and inferior bad actors with a few straightforward, minimum requirements to look out for when selecting a product.

Why are “bad actors” a problem for consumers and the industry?

Bad actors in CBD sell products that are not produced under cGMP conditions and are typically not tested by third-party laboratories to ensure identity, purity, quality, strength and composition. This means they are not verified for contaminants, impurities, label claims and product specifications. This frequently results in misleading advertising with inaccurate levels of cannabinoids or traces of compounds not found on the label, like THC. To combat this, the FDA issues warning letters to actors that market products allegedly containing CBD—many of which are found not to contain the claimed levels of CBD and are not approved for the treatment of any medical condition. Still, bad actors manage to slip through the cracks and deceive consumers.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

Bad actors that put anything in a bottle and make unsubstantiated medical claims hurt the reputable operators that strive to create safe and high-quality products. It is easy for consumers to be drawn to CBD products with big medical claims and lower prices, only to be disappointed when the product does not produce the advertised results. Inaccurately labeled products may contain unexpected levels of cannabinoids, including ingredients that consumers may not intend to ingest, like Delta-9 or Delta-8 THC. Along with unexpected levels of THC, many CBD products available now are not as pure as advertised, with one in four products going untested for contaminants like microbial content, pesticides, or heavy metals.

Further, inaccurate labeling of products and their compounds also prevents consumers from establishing a baseline impact of CBD on their bodies, leaving them vulnerable to inconsistent future experiences. Such a poor experience can turn consumers off to the category as a whole, drawing their trust away from not only the bad actors but also the reliable, reputable brands on the market. The saturation of the market with these disreputable brands delegitimizes a category that has only just begun to break down the stigmas, creating stagnation rather than growth as consumers remain wary of low-quality products.

How can consumers identify bad actors in CBD?

There are several simple ways to identify a bad actor among CBD products and make certain that both consumers and retailers purchase quality, reliable and safe brands in legitimate sales channels. To start, consumers should avoid all CBD products that are marketed with unsubstantiated medical claims. This is a significant area of abuse, as brands that relate any form of CBD product to a disease state, like cancer, should not be trusted. The science to support such medical claims has not been completed, yet, product marketing is years ahead of the evidence to support such claims. Unsupported medical claims could also mislead consumers that may need more serious medical intervention.

Just some of the many CBD products on the market today.

Additionally, consumers must review the packaging, which should include nutrition information in the form of a supplement fact label. The label should include the serving size, number of servings per container, a list of all dietary ingredients in the product and the amount per serving of each ingredient. All labels should include a net quantity of contents, lot number or batch ID, the name and address of the manufacturer, and an expiration or manufacturing date. These signs of a reputable brand are easy to look for and can save consumers from the trouble of selecting the wrong CBD product.

What to look for when selecting a CBD product

With this in mind, products from reputable, tested brands can be identified by a few key factors. Reputable CBD companies are already compliant with the FDA regulations on nutritional supplements, including a nutritional or supplement fact panel on the packaging—just like vitamins. The information in this panel should include all the active cannabinoids in the product, both per serving and package. Clear potency labeling allows consumers to confidently select products that suit their needs and understand the baseline impact of CBD concentration on their bodies, thus helping them to tailor their experience with thoughtful product selection.

Reputable brands also include a convenient QR code on the packaging, linking the product to a certificate of analysis that details the testing results to demonstrate compliance with product standards and label claims. In terms of specific ingredients, consumers should be skeptical of high concentration levels of “flavor of the month” minor cannabinoids, which are often associated with unsubstantiated medical claims. Current scientific research has set its focus on major cannabinoids like CBD and Delta-9 THC, leaving additional research necessary for understanding minor cannabinoids. Minor cannabinoids are typically included in full spectrum products at concentrations found naturally in the cannabis plant, which is a safer approach to consuming CBD until more research is completed.

Consumers should not let the existence of unreliable, untrustworthy brands curtail their confidence in the CBD sector—there are many high-quality, safe and trusted brands on the market. With a knowledgeable and discerning eye, consumers and retailers can easily select top-quality CBD products that millions of consumers have found to improve many aspects of their health and well-being. Looking ahead, clear federal regulations for CBD products that require mandatory product registration, compliance with product labeling, packaging and cGMP will be crucial in weeding out bad actors and will allow compliant companies to gain consumer trust and responsibly grow the CBD category.

Great Brand Design Can Grow Your Business

By Moira Stein
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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

Understanding who your target audience is essential for the appropriate design

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

Concept shots by the Studio One Eleven design division

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.

Label material, thickness and texture are tactile elements that can improve the design experience

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.

The Top 3 Ways to Find the Right Automation Tools for Your Cannabis Operations

By Nohtal Partansky
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In an emerging industry like cannabis, there’s always going to be the latest and greatest tool or technology to improve operations that are just in their infancy. In fact, as a cannabis business operator, it’s likely you hear from at least one or two salespeople a week, selling the next best thing to make your operations that much more efficient.

But, not every piece of technology or tool is well-suited for each individual operation. Even more, some solutions are just temporary band-aids and aren’t built for longevity or for the future maturation of the budding industry.

Of course, at a time when cannabis businesses are struggling to even turn a profit – it’s even more important to look at your processes, and automate or optimize what you can to increase your bottom line.

So, how can you make the right decision when it comes to making an investment in automation technology? Keep reading to learn the top 3 tips for successfully vetting automation tools for efficacy, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Tip #1 – Identifying what to automate

The goal of streamlining operations with automation technology isn’t to ‘automate anything and everything’. It’s automating the right parts of production to help scale growth and increase profitability. To do so, operators should look at bottlenecks in their production line or process.

An automated pre-roll infusion robot

Once you’ve identified the areas that slow production, it’s time to look at which areas are better candidates for automation than others. For instance, tasks that are highly variable are not ideal for automation. That’s because every time a variance occurs, you’ll spend extra time and effort reconfiguring your automation tool or technology to match.

It’s those bottlenecks in production that are repetitive and don’t vary often that are optimal to increase efficiency. For instance – infusing pre-rolls, filling vape carts or packing master cases would be prime candidates for automation.

To dip your toes into the automated waters – find one of those highly repeatable tasks, purchase a small, cost-effective solution and see just how it impacts productivity. If you see that a small change made a big difference – there’s scalability. After this due diligence, you can move forward in contacting more robust manufacturers for improved equipment designed for long-term use and wide scale implementation.

Tip #2 Choosing the right manufacturer

Speaking of manufacturers – choosing the right one is just as crucial. It shouldn’t come as a shock that not all technology or equipment can be treated equally. If the type of automation technology or equipment you choose is produced by a variety of manufacturers, here are the top things to consider when deciding which is right for you:

  • Customer support – You might think, ‘how hard can it be’ or fall for the sales pitch that a tool or piece of equipment is so easy to implement – reliable, dependable, and accessible support isn’t necessary. But that could not be farther from the truth. When questions or issues arise with the automation technology you choose – you don’t want to lose time, production, or money while you wait for a solution. Even though technology with customer support may cost more upfront, think of it this way. You’ll either pay up now or later. So, what will you choose? Paying a premium from the start to hit the ground running with 5-star equipment, technology and support? Or, saving a couple of bucks now, just to lose time and productivity due to a lack of customer support and lower-quality technology later.
  • Manufacturer experience – In cannabis, most manufacturers come from other fields and lend their experience and skills to new areas of operation and production. That means you’ll want to take a hard look at the team’s core roots and where they come from to understand just how their work will translate. Looking for professionals who are trained in high-tolerance, precision engineering is ideal for automation. Working with teams with this temperament ensures that they typically hold themselves to a high standard. Just remember, the team you’ll work with is a culmination of people who create a result. It all comes down to whether the team you choose has a track record of doing so, and how well they’ve served prior customers, too.
  • Customer reviews – Want to discover how good or bad the team is, beyond what they tell you themselves or before it’s too late? To truly find out, ask their past or current customers.

Tip #3 Learning from others

Of course, looking at successful operations and what they’ve chosen to automate for efficiency always helps, too. So, what is one common area that operators are increasingly optimizing for significant ROI on automation investments and efforts?

Most operations can increase efficiency by automating labeling.

Label applications. Label application is one process that almost any cannabis business can see an immediate return on investment in, across the board. While other areas of automation will vary and rely heavily on your volume, individual bottlenecks, and unique drops in productivity – most cannabis operations can increase efficiency by automating this non-varying, highly repeatable task.

The Final Word Using Automation To Your Advantage 

Automation technology exists for a good reason. It helps cannabis business operators maximize efficiency, stay in compliance, reduce costs over time and, in turn, increase profits. But the wrong automation technology for your processes won’t do anything of the sort. It will only muddy operations, waste precious capital and set you back in the long run.

So use these three tips to find the right automation technology tools, software and solutions to use to your advantage – before your competitors get a leg up.

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FDA Issues First Warning Letters for Delta-8 THC

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters today to companies selling products containing delta-8 THC. In total, the FDA sent out five warning letters to companies for violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

Image from the FDA’s consumer update on Delta-8 THC

The violations include illegal marketing of unapproved delta-8 THC products as treatment for medical conditions, misbranding and adding delta-8 THC to food products. Back in September of last year, the FDA published a consumer update on their website, seeking to educate the public and offer a public health warning on delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC is a cannabinoid that can be synthesized from cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp. It is an isomer of delta-9 THC, the more commonly known psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. Delta-8 THC does produce psychoactive effects, though not quite as much as its better-known cousin, delta-9 THC. Many regulators and industry stakeholders are increasingly concerned about the rise in popularity of delta-8 products, namely because of the processing involved to produce it. Delta-8 THC is often synthesized using potentially harmful chemicals.

The FDA has a history of sending a lot of warning letters to companies marketing CBD products inaccurately and making drug claims. Earlier this year, they sent a number of letters to companies claiming that CBD can cure or prevent Covid-19.

FDAlogoAccording to Janet Woodcock, M.D., principal deputy commissioner at the FDA, they are getting more and more concerned about the popularity of delta-8 THC products sold online. “These products often include claims that they treat or alleviate the side effects related to a wide variety of diseases or medical disorders, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, nausea and anxiety,” says Woodcock. “It is extremely troubling that some of the food products are packaged and labeled in ways that may appeal to children. We will continue to safeguard Americans’ health and safety by monitoring the marketplace and taking action when companies illegally sell products that pose a risk to public health.”

The FDA sent warning letters to the following companies selling delta-8 THC products:

  • ATLRx Inc.
  • BioMD Plus LLC
  • Delta 8 Hemp
  • Kingdom Harvest LLC
  • M Six Labs Inc.

Mitigating Counterfeiting in the Cannabis Industry

By Norbert Korny
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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
Authentic-looking counterfeits can have labeling that mimics a brand’s look, but could be missing key 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

Pros:

  • Customers can visually compare the details of the product.

Cons:

  • 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

measure

Pros:

  • Customers can verify a single product code instead of several visual details.

Cons:

  • 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

Validating a product using QR Code

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons”

  • 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.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cannabis Labeling

By Jon Bernard
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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.

It’s important to follow general federal regulations for your product, such as the nutrition facts section (Image: TEKLYNX)

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
    • Application instructions
    • Expiration date 

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.

An example of a cannabis flower label in Oregon with all of the required information.

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!

Final Thoughts

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.

Sustainability in Packaging: A Q&A with Dymapak CEO Ross Kirsh

By Aaron G. Biros
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Ross Kirsh launched Dymapak in New York City in 2010. Born into a family with a storied history in manufacturing, he founded the company after working for several years in Hong Kong where his interests, skills and passions for product development took shape.

Filling a niche for smell-proof bags in smoke shops, the business grew as he immersed himself in cannabis markets around the country. After designing and inventing a patented, first of its kind child-resistant pouch for Colorado’s first adult use sale in 2014, the business has continued to achieve global scale and today is recognized as the worldwide leader in cannabis packaging.

While the cannabis industry has long drawn the ire of environmentalists because of its energy problem when it comes to cultivation, the packaging side of the business faces very similar issues; the cannabis industry also has a plastic problem. In most states where cannabis is legal, state regulations require producers and dispensaries to package all cannabis products in opaque, child-resistant packaging, with several states requiring dispensaries to place entire orders inside large, child-resistant exit bags prior to customers leaving with their purchase.

Dymapak, led by Kirsh, is working on initiatives to help address environmental sustainability in cannabis packaging and turn interest into action industry wide. Ross will offer insights and the business’s action plan at the upcoming Cannabis Packaging Virtual Conference December 1. And ahead of that chat, we caught up with him to learn more.

Aaron G. Biros: Tell me a bit about yourself and how Dymapak came to be. What brought you to the cannabis space and where you are today?

Ross Kirsh, CEO of Dymapak

Ross Kirsh: My family has deep roots in manufacturing. Back in the mid 1970s, my uncle and his brothers all launched separate manufacturing businesses after one of the brothers moved to Hong Kong to open a handbag and luggage factory. The 70s happened to be a unique time to work abroad in Hong Kong given few US companies were operating there when China first announced its open-door policy around 1979. And as you can expect, he became a sourcing agent for many large companies in the US who needed trustworthy boots on the ground.

I went to college, pursued IT and in the back of my mind always knew product development and the manufacturing process was too interesting not to follow. I already knew Hong Kong was ripe for learning entrepreneurship so I went abroad to learn more, and fell in love with the culture, the opportunity and the people.  Immediately after graduation, I moved to Hong Kong. I began working with my family, who taught me the trade – end to end. I helped develop several product lines and lived next to one of our factories in southern China to immerse myself.

After 3.5 years abroad, I began running sales operations back in the US. Fast forward a year back in the states, I had unique customers that owned tobacco and smoke shops telling me that cannabis packaging existed in the market, but not really what everyone was looking for. In truth, the business was born the minute a customer said, “Can you make me a retail ready smell-proof bag?” I figured I could, and the rest – as they say – is history.

What began and was established in 2010 truly took shape at an accelerated pace in 2013, when my relationship with one of the first dispensary owner/operators in Denver – Ean Seeb of Denver Relief – came with a golden opportunity; Invent a child resistant package for cannabis, one did not exist but it was mandated under Colorado’s first-ever recreational cannabis regulations. I spent 7 out of the next 8 weeks in China developing a solution and am proud to say our bag was used in the first recreational sale when Colorado went legal in January 2014. From there, the business grew rapidly, and organically throughout the industry.

Biros: Environmental sustainability is a big issue for cannabis. Not just on the energy intensive side, but particularly when it comes to packaging and its plastic problem. How is your company approaching this issue and are you working on any initiatives to eliminate or reduce plastic waste?

Kirsh: We recognize firsthand the issues that plastic presents. While the material is full of advantages, the disadvantages are both imminent and critical to understand.

What many don’t realize is, for most cannabis packaging that’s recyclable to actually BE recycled, the customer must first find a drop off location, either at a dispensary or elsewhere that accepts the material. The process relies exclusively on the consumer to take action because the products cannot be recycled curbside. And unfortunately, the stats show that very few consumers take the time to bring the packaging back in order to recycle it.

So, yes, we produce recyclable bags in our portfolio, but we really want to get to the source of the problem here – pollution. We looked in a few different areas. And we developed a different bag made with 30% post-consumer resin, meaning 30% is made from reused plastics.

Even more, we recently partnered with a socially conscious, industry leader in the space, Plastic Bank, which builds regenerative, recycling ecosystems in under-developed communities. They work to  collect plastic waste from the ocean – extracting it to ensure its opportunity to enter the recycling ecosystem. Through our partnership with Plastic Bank, we’ll help prevent more than six million plastic bottles from entering the ocean this year alone. And I’m really proud of that.

Biros: Where do you see the cannabis packaging industry going in the next five years?

Kirsh: I think that’s a fascinating question. Sustainability will play a huge role in the future of this market. Just like we are seeing single use plastic bags being phased out across the country, we’ll see that happen to other areas too as part of this larger trend.

I predict more on-time and on-demand needs in the future; the ability to see traceability in real time, similar to the pharmaceutical industry. People will expect batch numbers and lot numbers, with data, in real time. It’ll become central to the business.

Gaining and cultivating trust will be another big hurdle for companies in this sector soon. With federal legalization comes a greater sense of professionalism and more sophistication for the market.

Yet, the continued pressure on environmental sustainability will be the biggest change in the next five years. When you look at sustainability in the packaging industry, paying attention to the format or choice of material should be top of mind. For example, if you’re shipping a glass jar, the amount of space that takes up in a shipping container has a huge impact on the environment, what’s called a hidden impact. One shipping container can hold millions of bags, but you need eight shipping containers for glass jars to get the same amount of storing capacity. That’s about efficiency, which is a bit more hidden, and I hope that consumers will become more and more knowledgeable about what companies are doing to stay environmentally sustainable.

Biros: Ross, thank you very much for your time today.

Kirsh: My pleasure, Aaron.

Cannabis Recalls: Lessons Learned After Three Years of Canadian Legalization

By Steven Burton
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Three years ago, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to legalize and regulate cannabis. We’ve covered various aspects of cannabis regulation since, but now with a few years of data readily available, it’s time to step back and assess: what can we learn from three years of cannabis recalls in the world’s largest legal market?

Labelling Errors are the Leading Cause of Canadian Cannabis Recalls

Our analysis of Health Canada’s data revealed a clear leader: most cannabis recalls since legalization in October 2018 have been due to labelling and packaging errors. In fact, over three quarters of total cannabis recalls were issued for this reason, covering more than 140,000 units of recalled product.

The most common source of labelling and packaging recalls in the cannabis industry (more than half) is inaccurate cannabinoid information. Peace Naturals Project’s recall of Spinach Blue Dream dried cannabis pre-rolls this year is a good example. Not only did the packaging incorrectly read that the product contained CBD, but the THC quantity listed was lower than the actual amount of THC in the product. The recall covered over 13,000 units from a single lot sold over 10 weeks.

In another example, a minor error made a huge impact. British Columbia-based We Grow BC Ltd. experienced this firsthand when it misplaced the decimal points in its cannabinoid content. The recalled products displayed the total THC and CBD values as 20.50 mg/g and 0.06 mg/g, respectively, when the products contained 205.0 mg/g and 0.6 mg/g.

Accurate potency details are not just crucial for compliance. For many customers, potency is a deciding factor when selecting a cannabis product, and this is especially important for medicinal users (including children), people who are sensitive to certain cannabinoids and consumers looking for non-psychoactive effects. In this case, at least six consumer complaints were submitted to Peace Naturals Project, the highest number for any cannabis recall in Canada.

Frequent, integrated lab testing, an effective and robust traceability system, smaller lot sizes during production and consistent quality checks could have helped Peace Naturals Project and We Grow BC limit the scope of their recall or avoid them altogether.

Pathogens are the #2 Cause of Cannabis Recalls in Canada

Pathogens are the second most common cause of recalls in Canada, claiming 18% of total cannabis recall incidents. And while that doesn’t sound like much compared to the recalls caused by labelling errors, it affects the highest volume of product recalled with over 360,000 units affected.

Canadian Cannabis Recalls – Total number of affected units and noted causes

A primary cause of allergens and microbiological contamination of cannabis products is yeast, mold and bacteria found on cannabis flower (chemical contaminants like pesticides can also be a major concern). Companies like Atlas Growers, Natural MedCo and Agro-Greens Natural Products have all learned this lesson through costly recalls.

These allergenic contaminants pose an obvious health risk, often leading to reactions such as wheezing, sneezing and itchy eyes. For people using cannabis for medical conditions and may be more susceptible to illness, pathogens can cause more serious health complications. Moreover, this type of cannabis recall not only drives significant cost since microbiological contamination of flower could easily affect several product batches processed in the same facility and/or trigger downstream recalls, but also affect consumer confidence for established cannabis brands.

Preventive control plan requirements for cannabis manufacturers mandate that holders of a license for processing that produce edible cannabis or cannabis extracts in Canada must identify and analyze the biological, chemical and physical hazards that present a risk of contamination to the cannabis or anything that would be used as an ingredient in the production of the edible cannabis or cannabis extract. Biological hazards can come from a number of sources, including:

  • Incoming ingredients, including raw materials
  • Cross-contamination in the processing or storage environment
  • Employees
  • Cannabis extract, edible cannabis and ingredient contact surfaces
  • Air
  • Water
  • Insects and rodents

To mitigate risks, addressing root causes with preventative measures and controls is essential. For instance, high humidity levels and honeydew secreted by insects are common causes of mold on cannabis flowers. Measures such as leaving a reasonable distance between plants, using climate-controlled areas to dry flowers, applying antifungal agents and conducting regular tests are necessary to combat such incidents.

control the room environment
Preventative measures and controls can save a business from extremely costly recalls.

Of course, placing all the necessary controls into action is not as simple as it may sound. Multiple facilities and a wide range of products in production mean more complexity for cannabis producers and processors. Any gaps in processing flower, extracts or edibles can result in an uncontrolled safety hazard that may lead to a costly cannabis recall.

These challenges are not just limited to cannabis growers. The food industry has been effectively mitigating the risk of biological hazards for decades with the help of food ERP solutions.

Avoid Recalls Altogether with Advanced ERP Technology

An effective preventative control plan with regular quality checks, internal audits and standardized testing is important to minimize the threats evident from Canada’s recall data. If these measures ever fail, real-time traceability systems play a pivotal role in the event of a cannabis recall by enabling manufacturers to trace back incidents to the exact point of contamination and identify affected products with surgical precision.

Instead of starting from zero, savvy cannabis industry leaders turn to the proven solutions from the food industry and take advantage of data-driven, automated systems that deliver the reliability and safety that the growing industry needs. From automated label generation to integrated lab testing to quality checks to precision traceability and advanced reporting, production and quality control systems are keys to success for the years ahead.

The Importance of Smart Cannabis Packaging

By John Shearman
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Regardless of their size, all consumer package brands spend a significant amount of money and resources on packaging to attract consumers’ attention. We are all very visually oriented and gravitate to items that pique our interests. Cannabis brands are no exception when it comes to branding their products. Packaging plays a big part in carrying their brand forward and standing out on the dispensary shelves. When I was in Las Vegas at a CBD tradeshow in early 2020, I visited a dispensary, and it was beautiful. I remember commenting to a colleague that was with me how spectacular the product packaging was in the glass cases. One had unique artwork on each different product they offered, and it was indeed art. Yes, I did purchase this one that pulled me in.

The cannabis industry in the United States presents a challenge to brands because there is no overall federal guidance for packaging. Each state is controlling the cannabis legislation and, with it, the packaging guidelines. So multi-state operators (MSOs) have to manage each state as a separate entity and abide by the packaging regulations, which is not very efficient and adds a cost burden. As the industry matures and becomes federally legal across the country, packaging regulations will be easier to implement.

Louis Vuitton bags are one of the many goods that are commonly counterfeited
Image: UK Home Office, Flickr

Let’s take a look at counterfeit products across all product categories. There is a significant global problem with counterfeits, as articulated by the below statistics.

The total global trade in fakes is estimated at around $4.5 trillion. 

Fake luxury merchandise accounts for 60% to 70% of that amount, ahead of pharmaceuticals, entertainment products and representing perhaps a quarter of the estimated $1.2 trillion total trade in luxury goods.

Digital plays a big role in this and perhaps 40% of the sales in luxury fakes take place online.

Customs and Border Patrol confiscated $1.3 billion worth of counterfeit goods in the U.S. for Fiscal Year 2020. (The value of 2020’s seizures are actually down compared to the $1.5 billion worth of counterfeit goods seized by CBP in 2019).

Unfortunately, the figures above are concerning, and the cannabis industry will face the same counterfeit issues that will add to these stats in the future. What can be done to help fight the problem and alleviate the pain for cannabis brands? Smart technology.

The trend towards “smart technology” varies by sector, but the underlying concept involves building levels of technology systems designed to impede or limit the highly sophisticated counterfeiter from replicating or replacing products. These levels typically include a forensic level control on the product, digital systems to track the material and customer facing systems to articulate the underlying value to the consumer.

Building these levels of smart technology into cannabis-products and packaging allows consumers to authenticate real versus fake, and in the case often in cannabis, legal versus illegal. Molecular technology is one forensic level of control option that can be used as a unique identifier for product authentication. Each brand would get its unique identifier to apply to the raw materials that make up its product, such as oil or an isolate. Then a sample can be tested at the origin point and subsequent nodes in the supply chain using a remote testing device. All the digital data is captured in a secure cloud database for traceability and transparency to the end consumer, to show them the authenticity of the product they are consuming. The same molecular technology can be applied to the ink or varnish for packaging and labels. A great application to help combat counterfeits and product diversion across the globe.

Counterfeiters can create near duplicate versions of the original

Another engaging platform is called StrainSecure by TruTrace Technologies. Their SAAS platform allows cannabis manufacturers to track all their product batches and SKUs tied to a blockchain. It also facilitates the interaction between the manufacturer and third-party testing facilities to conduct product testing and reporting. The data is captured within the platform, and with easy access dashboard views, it provides the insights to authenticate products at any time.

A company out of Australia called Laava is producing a product called Smart Fingerprints. It’s the next evolution of QR codes. The Smart Fingerprints can be applied to each package, providing a unique identifier that consumers can read with a mobile phone application. The consumer is provided with information concerning the product’s authenticity and any additional information the brand wants to share with the user. Smart Fingerprints are a great example of customer engagement at the point of activity that is secure.

The above three solutions show the availability of advanced technologies the cannabis industry can implement on its packaging and products to ensure authentic and safe products are sold to consumers. It provides consumers with vital information and insights about products so they can make informed buying decisions. There is no one silver bullet solution that provides all the answers. As with every high value product, counterfeiters will work to create near duplicate versions of the original until it becomes unsustainable to do so. It will take a technology ecosystem to seamlessly connect and provide actuate and timely information between supply chain partners and ultimately the end consumer. As the US works to separate the legal from illegal production for both the adult use and medical supply of cannabis, the looming challenge will be on protecting and communicating authenticity, packaging will be the first step in this.