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Cannabis packaging to evolve


September 24, 2019
By Andrew Wong

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(Credit: Elton Clemente, Adobe Stock)(Credit: Elton Clemente, Adobe Stock)

Is your cannabis packaging compliant? Review these highlights from Health Canada’s regulatory updates

In June of this year, Health Canada released amendments to the Cannabis Act and Cannabis Regulations. These changes take effect on October 17, 2019, and cannabis products in the Canadian market will have one year after this date to comply. Below are key updates that those involved in cannabis packaging in Canada should consider when preparing for compliance.

New cannabis classes

The current Cannabis Act allows for the legal sale of specific groups of cannabis products described as “classes,” which currently include dried cannabis, fresh cannabis, oils, plants and seeds. This year’s regulatory amendment introduces edible, extract and topical classes, while oils will be reclassified as either extracts, edibles or topicals depending on their method of consumption. Analysis: New cannabis classes and resulting products will create new packaging format opportunities. As is the case with current regulations, each cannabis class will have its own requirements for packaging and labelling, and careful examination of these differences will be required for proper cannabis packaging execution. For example, edibles will require food-grade primary packaging/immediate containers, as well as a cannabis-specific Nutrition Facts Table (NFT). Those currently producing cannabis packaging – especially for oil, which will be reclassified – should thoroughly examine the updated regulations to ensure compliance.

Maximum THC limits per container

Currently, an immediate container can hold up to 30 grams of dried cannabis (or its class equivalent as per the regulations). Products within new cannabis classes each have their own maximum weight limits based on the THC content of a given product.

Analysis: Knowing the maximum THC amount for each type of cannabis product helps to inform packaging development, particularly with respect to determining packaging dimensions. There will be a 10 milligram THC limit introduced for cannabis edibles — and this causes some concern given legal products may not be able to compete with the black market, where edible THC content can often approach 40 milligrams. The 10-milligram limit for edibles also effectively limits the number of units per container, which indirectly impacts packaging cost and efficiency.

Control measures required for dispensing cannabis extract

Not all cannabis extracts will be packaged in discrete units, such as capsules. For extracts that are not packaged in discrete units, are not intended to be inhaled and/or contain at least 10 milligrams of THC, immediate containers must:

• Be designed to ensure the extract cannot be easily poured or consumed directly from the container, and
• Include an integrated dispensing mechanism (e.g., a metered spray) or accessory that dispenses no more than 10 milligrams of THC of the extract.

Analysis: The updated regulations will eliminate certain packaging formats currently used for cannabis oil (e.g. bulb dropper bottles). Metered spray bottles or bottles that include a syringe for dispensing will also have to be examined to ensure they dispense no more than 10 milligrams of THC at once.

Matte finish no longer required

Updated regulations eliminate the current requirement for matte finish on cannabis packaging.

Analysis: This update will reduce confusion surrounding packaging materials that are naturally glossy (e.g., glass) and will eliminate the need for additional matte varnishes and coatings.

Fewer rotating health warnings

An updated set of Cannabis Health warning messages will accompany this cannabis regulatory update. There is now a maximum of eight health warnings that must be displayed in rotation on any given cannabis product, compared to 14 warnings currently.

Analysis: Lowering the number of warnings reduces layout variables per SKU, which will translate into improved packaging efficiencies.

Expanded labels and fold-out panels now allowed
Updated regulations will allow expanded panels and alternative display formats in cases where the immediate container is too small to accommodate all required information on the exterior display surface.

Analysis: It is now possible to use smaller packaging formats that could not previously accommodate the high volume of required regulatory copy. This update also nicely coincides with Health Canada’s Plain Language Labelling (PLL) regulations, which require significantly more information to be printed on over-the-counter drug product packaging. As a result, pharmaceutical brands and manufacturers have required new packaging formats to accommodate more information while minimizing supply chain impacts and shelf footprints.

Final word

This upcoming regulatory update addresses many complaints surrounding current packaging regulations for cannabis products in Canada, but also introduces new complexities. For anyone involved in packaging cannabis products, understanding these updates will be essential to ensure continued compliance. For those suppliers whose solutions do not satisfy current requirements, these updated regulations may create an opportunity to participate in the cannabis market.

Please be aware this article does not cover all of the upcoming regulatory updates — for example, wording for THC and CBD amounts have been updated to facilitate easier comparison between products. Another major update are the new requirements surrounding “wrappers.” Unpacking the implications of Health Canada’s new wrapper requirements will require further time than this article allows.

I would highly recommend that anyone planning to use wrappers examine the new regulations carefully and if possible, confirm their application with your Health Canada contact. It is also important to remember that cannabis regulations, like any other regulation, are written with room for interpretation. Reviewing the actual regulatory documents is essential to ensure compliance and maximize value for your packaging solutions.

Further investigation

By the time this article is published, the updated regulations and all of its supporting documents should be freely accessible on Health Canada’s website. These documents can be found by entering their name on any major search engine:

• Directory of Nutrition Facts Table Formats for Edible Cannabis
• Cannabis Health Warning Messages
• Cannabis Regulations
• Cannabis Act

Review the publishing date of those documents to ensure you are referencing the latest version.

Andrew Wong is Manager of the Innovation Solutions Group at Jones Packaging, a developer of packaging solutions for complex, highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and cannabis.
(This article was originally published on Print Action on Sept. 5, 2019 .)