The challenges in packaging medical cannabis products

As a new industry, medical marijuana food producers are exploring new terrain in marketing and packaging their products. There are strict legal requirements with different regional laws on the one hand, and the need to educate customers on the other hand. Marjorie Fischer, brand manager at Auntie Dolores, shared her insights and perspectives.

As a new industry, medical marijuana food producers are exploring new terrain in marketing and packaging their products. There are strict legal requirements with different regional laws on the one hand, and the need to educate customers on the other hand. In an email interview, Marjorie Fischer, brand manager at Auntie Dolores, an Oakland-based leader in the medical cannabis movement, shared her insights and perspectives about how she approaches the challenges involved in packaging design for cannabis edibles. Auntie Dolores produces medical edibles sold through licensed dispensaries.

For the packaging for Auntie Dolores products, what are the main objectives in terms of brand identity, functionality and legal requirements?

We seek to convey five different areas with our product packaging. The first one is wellness: We are passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining vitality with cannabis. The second one is gourmet: We are an artisan, organic, and craft food focused company. We make our products in small batches, with whole food ingredients, and with delicious flavors that mask the cannabis. Our products are made locally in California.

The third one is luxury and design: We believe the exterior packaging should reflect the interior product. All our packaging is sleek and intentionally designed for a high style appearance, sustainability, and functionality. The fourth one is compassion: We care deeply about our patients, consumers, retailers, and all partners and collaborators in this industry. The fifth one is education and science: We are devoted to educating the world as well as our consumers about proper dosing and consumption.

We follow all current legal requirements and go beyond by providing a completely sealed child resistant package and also providing a substantial amount of information about the dosing and consumption of the product on the package.

How would you describe the brand identity and how does that translate into the look and feel of the packaging?

Our foundational values are integrity, quality, transparency, and compassion. We are a Gourmet artisan food company as much as we are a cannabis company. Every ingredient and process we use in our products is focused on optimum health and wellness for humans, animals, and the environment. This means it is our privilege and our responsibility to advocate for patients and to be a reliable source for information and access. We know the profound impact cannabis can have on our physical and psychological well-being and are thrilled to help patients learn about this new medicine and provide it in our edibles.

This is translated in our packaging through the abundance of dosing and usage information. We are very clear about serving size and how to dose each product so the consumer is getting the right dose for their tolerance level. It is important to provide ingredient information as well and make clear what dietary needs each product fulfills. There are gluten free, sugar free, vegan, and paleo options to name a few and list these on the front of the packaging.

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In developing packaging for the cannabis industry, what are some of the unique challenges you face?

The unique challenge is anticipating the legal requirements on the horizon. Laws in the cannabis industry change frequently and we hope to soon have better federal laws which will also change the packaging requirements. You need to try and stay many steps ahead so we are compliant with laws in our home state of California and also in other states across the nation if possible. This also allows us to keep much of our packaging consistent as the laws change.

There are unique legal requirements for medical edibles in each state. How does that affect the packaging?

As we start to create licensee partnerships in other states we must work together to create different versions of our labels and interior packaging to comply with those state laws. This often means creating entirely new interior packaging. For example in Washington each serving size must be wrapped individually inside of the package.

Can you explain how the labels are different and how you work with the printer to solve this challenge?

For every state there are different requirements for the wording on the labels.  Often this applies to certain types of warnings and language. For example in Washington we cannot use the word “dose” and must instead use the word “serving” so we have to create a new label with this new wording. The only way to handle this with the printer is to print an entirely new set of canisters for our product in this state.

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What is the most difficult aspect of this unique situation?

I would not say it is difficult at all, just a new and interesting challenge. In order to thrive in the cannabis industry a company must be adaptable and flexible and this includes being able to flow with different state laws as we grow and expand and be able to create the packaging needed to honor those state laws when we do business there.

You switched plastic to paper packaging – can you describe the reasons for the switch and some of the challenges associated with using a different material?

We are thrilled with our new packaging because we think it better suits our brand identity. We wanted something beautiful that is eye-catching and memorable. We also wanted our crunchy product to be able to travel well and in the canister there is no risk of being crushed or broken. The only challenge we faced was having to create a secondary package interior that keeps the product completely air tight. Our products come inside of a plastic heat sealed interior inside of the canister.