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Packaging, Compliance, Sustainability and your Brand

By Matt Walstatter

Dispensary owners live busy lives. With all of the attention we focus on big issues like inventory, taxes and banking, product packaging can easily become an afterthought.

This is a common and potentially costly error.

Packaging matters for a number of reasons, but the most significant revolve around marketing and compliance. Sustainability is also a major concern. Understanding the role of packaging in these areas will pave the way for successful, effective packaging choices.

Compliance is critical

In the Cannabis Industry, serious compliance issues arise around packaging. In Oregon, where Pure Green is located, we have detailed rules on how products must be packaged. The two most significant packaging rules state that any medicated product that we transfer to a patient must leave our store in packaging that is both childproof and opaque.

If the OHA (the Oregon Health Authority, our regulatory body) learns that we are not using compliant packaging, we can be cited and/or fined. Multiple violations can lead to a revocation of our license.

Non-compliant packaging can also be costly in other ways. I know of a Colorado dispensary that bought $35,000 worth of packaging that was opaque on one side but transparent on the other. When the new rules for the recreational system required packaging to be entirely opaque, the company took a loss on all of that packaging. This was an expensive yet completely avoidable mistake.

A marketing opportunity

Packaging can be an important and effective marketing tool. Failing to capitalize on packaging’s marketing potential is tantamount to leaving money on the table.

When your products leave your shop and head out into the big wide world, they will be seen, smoked and tasted by people other than the person who purchased them at your store. If these people enjoy those products, branded packaging will help them find them at your shop.

In more mature industries, the products themselves are usually branded. While some product brands exist in the Cannabis Industry, most cannabis products, especially flowers, are sold in bulk to dispensaries who package them for final sale.

This gives you the opportunity to put your name, logo and branding on a host of quality cannabis products. If someone tries some flower from your store and likes it enough to seek more, the packaging will bring them directly to you, regardless of who produced the product.

The packaging market

The market for cannabis packaging reminds me a great deal of the black market for cannabis — spotty, inconsistent, and unreliable. For instance, we purchased new glass jars for our display cases last August and here it is March and we still haven’t received all of them.

Most products are made in China, which can cause problems with their quality, the time and cost of delivery, and customer service. This creates an interesting choice: deal directly with China, through sites like Alibaba, or order from a wholesaler who in turn will probably order from China.

You may save a little money ordering direct, but you then take on the challenge of dealing with a Chinese company. You may also have to buy much larger quantities than you want, often starting around 10,000 units.

We prefer to deal with a middleman. Customer service takes place in English, following Western business norms. Our packaging may cost a little more, but we find this is more than offset by the reduced headaches. Working through domestic companies also makes it easier to customize our packaging with our logo and branding.

The market for childproof packaging changes constantly. Options are limited and products available one day are gone the next. We used to be unable to get the same color containers two orders in a row.

We dealt with this by placing one of our managers in charge of all packaging. He makes certain that we have the packaging that we need at all times. Because it is part of his job description, he has the necessary time to shop around for lower prices and learn about new or different options.

Sustainability issues

Because of the compliance requirements, most packaging we use is made of plastic. This is an unfortunate reality of our industry, and we have spent countless hours searching for more environmentally friendly options. So far, we cannot locate packing that is both childproof AND compostable.

We encourage our customers to recycle containers or to bring them back to us. Many of the plastic containers are dishwasher safe, so they can be cleaned and reused.

We have thought long and hard about an affordable way to incentivize recycling. Our best idea so far is to offer loyalty points, through our customer loyalty program, for patients who return the containers for reuse or recycling. We will be adding that to our loyalty program in the next month or so.

It’s easy to think of packaging as merely a container for the products that you sell. This represents a short-sighted approach. When used properly, packaging can create valuable marketing opportunities, while mistakes may raise costly compliance issues.

With a little savvy, you can consistently find affordable packaging that conforms to the law and strengthens your brand, too.

Matt Walstatter and his wife, Meghan, are the owners of Pure Green, a patient owned and operated dispensary in Portland, Oregon. They have jointly owned and operated cultivation centers since 2001. Their dispensary opened in 2013. Matt can be reached at (971) 242-8561 or matt@puregreenpdx.com.

Rob MeagherRob Meagher

Rob Meagher

Rob Meagher, CBE’s Founder, President and Editor-in-Chief is a 30 year veteran of the media world. His career has spanned from stints representing the Washington Post, USA Weekend, Reader’s Digest, Financial World & Corporate Finance to the technology world where he worked at International Data Group and Ziff Davis where he was part of the launch team for The Web Magazine, Yahoo Internet Life, Smart Business and Expedia Travels before starting his own marketing and Publisher’s Representative Firm. He also ran all print and online media sales and marketing for the Society for Human Resource Management before partnering with Forbes and then Fortune to create Special Sections covering a variety of topics. Rob, who started CBE Press in 2014, can be contacted at [email protected]

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