With the ever-increasing availability of medical and recreational cannabis, local states have issued voluminous regulations covering all aspects of cannabis cultivation, distribution, and retailing, commonly referred as “seed to sale”. In most states, the common element is the requirement that packaging for all cannabis products meet the Consumer Products Safety Commission guidelines for Child Resistant Packaging.
Due to the variety of different forms of marijuana, such as flower, pre rolls, concentrates, tinctures, and edibles, there has been and explosion of innovative child resistant marijuana packaging.
From a packaging standpoint, marijuana presents some unique challenges. First and foremost, in its raw form, i.e., flower, it has a strong and distinctive aroma due to its high terpen contents. The terpenes are a VOC , or volatile organic compound, which are found in many man-made and organic products. VOCs evaporate quickly if the packaging is not airtight. Since most users associate the aroma with high quality cannabis, it’s critically important to design packaging that keeps the smell, as well as the natural moisture content, in the package. If marijuana loses its aroma and is harsh when smoked because it’s dried out, it won’t be a satisfactory experience for the end user.
Add the requirements marijuana packaging already faces with the additional need for child resistance and it becomes a real packaging design challenge. Child resistant (CR) glass jars for marijuana were some of the first CR packages on the market. They use the common “push and turn” method on the lid to achieve CR certification, but many versions still face the problem of containing the VOCs due to cheap, low-quality seals. Some cannabis centric suppliers provide premium seals as standard, but since that type of seal cost more, their jars are typically a bit more expensive.
One of the most popular storage solutions is the smell proof bag, also referred to as a barrier bag or mylar bag. Custom mylar bags have many advantages, including low cost, minimal storage space requirements, and lots of room for branding. Custom printed mylar bags generally low minimum order quantities for custom printing, especially when using a digital print process.
Smell proof bags are made by laminating various films such as PE , PET , VMPET (vacuum metalized polyester film) in the correct thicknesses. By laminating the correct films in the right thicknesses, it’s possible to make a bag that is smell proof, provided it has a high-quality zipper. A cannabis storage bag is a “system” that’s only as strong as its weakest link, which can be the film composition, the zipper, or both. You can use the best composition of films available, but if the zipper doesn’t seal, it’s like having a well-insulated house with the doors and windows open. If a bag meets the compound film and zipper requirements to be a smell proof bag, then the challenge is to maintain these qualities and make it a child resistant.
Making a container child resistant is not nearly as difficult as you might think. The current testing requirements under Consumer Product Safety Commission regulation 16 CFR § 1700.20 – Testing procedure for special packaging , mandates that the test group incorporates 42 to 51 month old children and senior men and women. Children in this age group have a difficult time with processes that that require two simultaneous actions at the same time. The common “push and turn” lid is a good example of two actions that need to be done concurrently to open the container.
Making a container child resistant is not all the difficult, however making one that can be easily opened by seniors, and not by children, is. At one time or another, most adults have struggled trying to open a child resistant container. Imagine a senior, who has limited strength, or arthritis, coupled with the inability to understand difficult to read opening instructions, and its easy to see that the challenge in designing CR packaging is the adults, not the kids.
During CR testing, all test packages are first given to seniors who must open and then re-secure them before they go to the children for testing. If they can’t open it, or correctly reseal it, it’s an automatic failure. If more than 20% of the packages fail because seniors can’t open and resecure them, or the children are able to open them, the package will not pass CR certification.
Another important reason for designing a CR container that is not complicated to use is the need for opening instructions. The best CR container is one that is intuitive to open and needs no instructions. Any opening instructions that were on the containers when they were tested must be in the same location, and in the same size, font, and color. This requirement can take up a significant amount of space on the package. The space needed for directions, especially on a small child resistant custom mylar bag, is much better used for branding and marketing so any directions ideally should be small and easy to understand. Better still is a package that seniors can figure out how to open without any instructions.
Ideally, a child resistant package that opens intuitively, and needs no instructions, is the best possible solution. There are a variety of “push and turn” options in glass and plastic jars for child resistant cannabis packaging as well as plastic “pop tops” that require a simple squeeze to open and have the instructions molded into the lid. Making a child resistant mylar bag has proven to be more difficult, although there are now several different styles available in the marketplace. Unfortunately, most require printed opening instructions that range from simple to complex, taking up valuable “real estate” on the outside of the bag that is much better used for branding.
Cannaline, a company that has been a pioneer in the design of cannabis specific packaging, developed the EZ Open line of child resistant custom mylar bags. They require no printed opening instructions on the outside of the bag and are very senior friendly to use. They also developed what is currently the only child resistant clam shell blister that is also tamper evident and re-sealable (patent pending). It’s a clever design that also needs no printed instructions.
Packaging suppliers in the marijuana industry have pushed the boundaries of child resistant packaging with some tried and true solutions as well as many fresh approaches to the unique requirements specific to the industry. They will continue to do so as more and more states, and possibly the Federal Government, legalize medical and adult use of cannabis related products.