Supply chains may still be suffering in pandemic conditions, but innovation and justice are not. Advanced Manufacturing East 2021 came to New York’s Jacob K. Javits Center this month, bringing the region’s largest design and manufacturing business expo to life with several industry-specific showcases comprising its inner workings. Among those, the cannabis packaging conference CannPack East shone brightly, heralding exciting news of what lies ahead as New York embraces adult-use cannabis legalization.
Cannabis Packaging Licensing and Regulation: The New York City Cannabis Industry Association Advises on Safety Standards
An outstanding CannPack panel addressed questions of cannabis packaging regulation through its expert speakers, headed by David Holland and Andrew Schriever, co-founders of the New York City Cannabis Industry Association / Hudson Valley Cannabis Industry Association (NYCCIA-HVCIA). Holland and Schriever, attorneys renowned for their pioneering measures in the cannabis space, have long been beating the drum for New York’s professionals to prepare for regulation. Joining them on the panel were Debby Miran, former Commissioner of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (with years of experience in pharmaceutical development and applications to the FDA), and intellectual property attorney Karen Bernstein, former Chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association Packaging and Labeling Committee.
“CannPack East deals with what New York will employ [regarding adult-use legalization and regulation],” said Holland. “Are all these things siloed, or can we try to develop safety standards for them [collectively]? That was one goal for our conversation, which looked at these issues on a broad scale.”
Indeed, the panel made a strong argument for the benefits of regulation and industry trade associations like NYCCIA. Explaining how 37 states have now legalized some form of cannabis, the experts proclaimed, “The people have spoken” – clearly the American public wants widespread accessibility to the plant and its products. The panelists discussed that for safety reasons, cannabis should have the same warning labels as any product, much as pharmaceutical medicines do, and that cannabis distributors must follow federal as well as state regulations to participate fully in a legal market. A major mission for the NYCCIA is to help states work together and cooperate with the FDA as they transition to economies that include adult-use cannabis products.
According to Schriever, trade associations help cannabis advocates push back against the restrictions of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which classifies the plant as a Schedule I drug and therefore still federally illegal. The efforts to show professional strength in numbers and a willingness to comply with governmental regulations go a long way to combat anti-cannabis propaganda. Additionally, the panelists outlined how the Controlled Substances Act prevents researchers in cannabis-legal states from collecting valuable data (unless they’re working at the federal level), with Holland mentioning his work helping patients to get reimbursed for cannabis-related issues in medical testing.
All of the experts were well-versed in legality, and emphasized the importance of attorneys and attorney generals working at the heart of the cannabis industry. Schriever discussed issues facing machinery development in the sector, stressing the need for businesses to hire good lawyers, and for distributors and packagers to include possible negative effects of said machinery in the fine print on their products’ packaging. Overall, he and Holland concluded, the NYCCIA is working with state regulators to finalize the intricacies of New York legalization.
Cannabis Packaging Design and Branding: A Cultivator Speaks on Women’s Roles in Growing and Truth for Consumers
Following the Cannabis Packaging Regulation panel was “Balance Between Quality & Branding,” an interview with Ashley Hubbard, Director of Cultivation at Rair Cannabis of Michigan, by Jeffrey Eisenstodt, Chief of Staff at Grove Bags. Hubbard started her career in cannabis as a trimmer with an ecology background and now heads cultivation at Rair, a woman-dominated company that brings education and high-quality medical products to the people of Michigan.
However, Hubbard claimed that most cultivation teams are male-dominated due to men’s comfortability in practicing growing starting at a young age. She became frustrated with the thought of women being far behind in their cannabis journeys due to lack of education about product and preference.
“Women want to smoke too,” she asserted.
Hubbard stressed that growers and branding go hand-in-hand, and it is important for a grower to have input in the packaging of cannabis products. Otherwise, products could be damaged in storage or elsewhere, reducing the quality. Unfortunately, state and federal regulations are still limiting when it comes to decisions on cannabis packaging. In Michigan, cannabis products can’t show any imagery that might be viewed as appealing to children; even brightly-colored pictures of fruit are against the rules.
Despite the obstacles, Hubbard is proud of the quality of Rair products and debunked many myths regarding the difference between, as she put it, “cannabis and good cannabis.” Packaging contributes to this, she said – although what draws the eye aesthetically may not realistically portray the product’s caliber of clean processing or sustainable materials. For example, she explained that the percentage of THC listed in dispensary cannabis does not relate to its quality, and pricing of products should be based on how difficult it is to grow a certain plant. At Rair-associated dispensaries, dispensary owners, called guides, help individual customers gain a better understanding of their preference for strain. Overall, Hubbard’s description of Rair’s operations made it seem like a uniquely customer-focused company that strives to make every consumer feel happy and comfortable.
Who Decides Cannabis Packaging Design?
Throughout CannPack East, conversations returned to the idea of who has the most say in the future of cannabis packaging and who’s in the target consumer base. Many, like Hubbard, believed that cultivators should have more input on their brands’ packaging because they work directly with the plant and can speak to what’s in the products. This can also facilitate explaining their products to Baby Boomers, the fastest-growing consumer demographic for cannabis, and to clarify the different options consumers have for delivery methods, from flower to edibles and beyond. One topic of great interest concerned how the tobacco industry’s role may evolve as cannabis becomes more regulated; speakers agreed that tobacco companies can be seen as both competitors and possible distributors for cannabis products in the future.
With New York and New Jersey inching closer to regulated markets every day, the energy at CannPack East was optimistic. What the future holds is still up in the air, but with professionals from all sides helping state officials see what must be done, it’s a far cry from going up in smoke.
For more about CannPack East and Advanced Manufacturing East, visit advancedmanufacturingeast.com.