Importing Cannabis Packaging? Make Sure Your Packaging Suppliers Know the Industry

From the Cannabis Packaging Conference West in Anaheim: With U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the hunt for what they deem to be 'paraphernalia,' packaging suppliers must be aware of nuance in describing what products are coming into the country.

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While most packaging sails through shipping and U.S. Customs and Border Protection without issue, components intended for filling with cannabis and hemp can fall victim to seizure in certain cases. In particular, more “obvious” products intended for delivery—such as vapes, pipes, and rolling papers—are halted more regularly than packaging components intended for product storage.

In his compliance talk at the Cannabis Packaging Conference West, Steven Levine, partner at Husch Blackwell, noted that while there’s no need for undue alarm, it’s good to be prepared for situations in your supply chain. (Disclaimer: His presentation should not be construed as legal advice.)

Importing your packaging? Be aware that there is a possibility a shipment could get held up.

Common packaging components such as jars or child-resistant (CR) closures are unlikely to garner any attention as they’re not primarily used in relationship to a federally illegal substance, making them unlikely to fall under Customs’ “paraphernalia” radar. 

Where things get murkier is if there is packaging coming across the border with labeling or branding related to marijuana or hemp. Additionally, if product is primarily used for smoking/inhaling purposes—even rolling papers, which have been used legally for tobacco for decades—it may be seized. Levine noted that one client had vape carrying cases with branding seized, despite the fact that the case could be used for any number of products. He said that Customs is on the more aggressive side; they’re trying to catch people involved in very serious crimes, so they’re erring on side of caution. They’d rather seize first and then ask questions (or argue with you) later.

And if you’re a packaging supplier? It’s a good idea to be sure you’re interacting with cannabis businesses that comply with state laws, rather than end up in any unlikely, but sticky, legal situations.

Make sure your packaging suppliers know the industry.

If your packaging supplier is sending goods from another country, be sure they’re up on laws. 

Levine said that you have to be truthful about goods and their use on shipping documentation. There can be serious problems with not accurately describing what’s coming into the country. He was clear to point out that it’s not difficult and certainly not cause for alarm, but that the company filling in shipping documents must understand nuance and know how to navigate these descriptions appropriately.  

Cannabis and hemp are far from new products in the U.S. but as newly legal products, not every supplier understands the laws. There are cases where a supplier has erred too far on the side of caution, worrying that supplying to a cannabis company will in some way affect them or how their packaging is viewed or supplied to other, more established industries. With so many packaging suppliers well-versed in state-by-state cannabis regulations, it’s worth approaching those with experience.


On the birth of the market: “Consumers built the black market. They pushed it to be legal at the ballot box. Consumer influence over the market is critical to think of as the industry moves forward.” —Sandra Elkind, STO Responsible

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