[This story originally ran 5/23/2018]
While flower is still common, the sheer number of delivery methods is staggering; edibles, transdermal patches and infused products are seeing a rise in popularity. “A lot of medical patients don’t want to smoke the flower, either for health reasons or they’re limited in where they can smoke,” says Wes Mancoff, President of Thomas Packaging. Capsules and softgels with extracted THC and/or cannabidiol (CBD) are an easy delivery method that can be consumed discreetly.
Aside from patient preference, laws in some states may help the edible market become as large, or larger, than that of flower. “Some states—like Pennsylvania at the moment—are passing medical marijuana laws that only allow concentrates and edibles, as opposed to flower,” says Chris Trabbold, Field Service Manager at All-Fill Inc., which supplies cannabis companies like Kiva Confections with packaging machinery.
Not all, but many edibles are still produced in kitchens, not factories. “Most packaging is still semi-automatic within the edible world. But for flower, oils, cartridges and tinctures, people are using more large-scale filling machines,” says Nancy Warner, CEO of Assurpack. “They’re not purchasing a bottle line that goes 300 per minute, but more like 50 per minute. Eventually there will be a lot more equipment demands.” Warner says she works a lot with preformed blisters, foil, cards and simple heat sealing machines.
“Because it’s still federally illegal, you can’t ship across state lines. One thing we’re seeing is companies planning to open facilities in every state where cannabis is legal,” says Mancoff. Some producers have even considered purchasing equipment and driving it across state lines to their different facilities because production requirements are small enough.
Child resistance and blisters
With any marijuana product, child-resistance is an extremely important piece of the puzzle. Blisters and flexible packaging will play an important role. Plastic “exit pouches” are required at point of purchase in some states’ cannabis dispensaries, and these must include a certified, child-resistant feature. As Presto's Todd Meussling explains, "It’s also critical to realize that the closure is the entryway to a product, but it’s not the only factor considered in child resistance. A child-resistant package must also be made with materials that keep kids out, even when they’re biting and pulling. Packagers can help by offering tear-proof and puncture-resistant films, which will be needed in addition to child-resistant closures."
In terms of primary packaging, “On the marketing side, most cannabis manufacturers are not blister packing yet. It’s a way to set your product apart from typical bottled soft gels and capsules,” says Mancoff.
Warner, who only supplies child-resistant packaging, notes, “People are starting to use primary blisters. The industry is trying to be a legitimate industry. They should take the highest level of precaution, so I always tell people you have to use F1 because you don't know otherwise, and how can you support anything less than that?”
And what about sustainability? Most people want recyclable materials ("Can this be made of hemp?"), but this can be difficult to balance with the need for child-resistance. Additionally, many cannot afford these options.