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A New “Universal Symbol” for Cannabis Products?

Colorado just announced new labeling requirements for all marijuana-infused products sold in the state. Beginning October 1, 2016, a new “universal symbol” must be printed in the specified location and specified manner on the outer packaging of both retail and medicinal marijuana products. In addition, many edible marijuana-infused products must have this symbol physically “marked, stamped or imprinted” on the product itself.

The Implications of the New Requirements

The new regulations oblige everyone in the infused consumable market to redesign and reprint their outer packaging. The new packaging must include the “retail” or “medical” form of the symbol, as well as other required “warning”-type verbiage below the symbol.

For those who produce moldable edibles, such as chocolates, brownies and hard confections, the symbol can be molded onto the product itself. Taking this approach, of course, will mean purchasing and testing all-new molds.

For those who produce other types of edibles, such as soft confections, cookies and cupcakes, meeting this new on-product labeling requirement will probably require the use of an “edible ink” of some sort. Chances are, this also means purchasing new equipment that can apply this edible ink to the product without negatively impacting its quality or desirability.

For those who produce cannabis capsules, the symbol will have to be imprinted on the capsules themselves. Many will choose to turn this into a branding opportunity and also imprint their capsules with their logo and milligram dosage. Between that and the use of a unique color combination, producers will be able to go to market with a branded product that’s both recognizable and compliant.

The Practical Implications of Requiring this Symbol in Particular

CBE recently spoke with three industry executives to get their take on the new “red diamond THC” symbol: Jonathan Gilinski, CEO of The Capsule Consulting Group, a capsule manufacturer and full-service consultancy serving the cannabis industry; Bob Eschino, President of Medically Correct, the makers of the Incredibles brand and Greg Gamet, Partner and Member of the Board of Directors at Kush Bottles, a leading wholesaler of cannabis packaging and related supplies. A synopsis of our conversation follows…

CBE: What is the purpose of these new labeling rules?

Eschino:The purpose of 1366 was to determine if products could be marked to indicate whether an item had THC in it.  That is all the new rules are supposed to do. It wasn’t intended to be a warning about THC, just an indicator of the presence of THC. So, if an item is removed from it’s child resistant packaging and left out, someone can tell the item has THC in it. This is supposed to help accidental ingestion for people old enough to recognize the symbol.

Gilinski : It appears that one of the purposes of this symbol is to ensure that these products are kept out of the reach of children and those who should not consume the product. In the case of edibles, which might look like familiar food products, it’s also meant to warn consumers that this product contains the psychoactive ingredient, THC.

Gamet: It’s all part of the overall packaging and labeling requirements – which include things like child resistant packaging – that are intended to facilitate a “robust regulatory and enforcement environment.”

CBE: Do you think this symbol will enable the state to meet these goals?

Eschino: Yes. The new symbol will indicate that an item has THC in it. This will not prevent accidental ingestion for small children if left out of the child resistant packaging though. It could help for older children and adults if the products are separated from their packaging. The industry would still like to see the data on how many accidental ingestions there have actually been over the last 12 months. We hear that most of the issues are coming from over ingestion from people who have not followed the recommendations to start low and go slow.  We recommend only 5-10 mg of THC and wait for 2 hours for new users until you figure out your levels.  This symbol will not prevent deliberate over ingestion from happening.

Gilinski : Frankly, no. As far as I’m concerned, this symbol does not inherently accomplish the goals it sets out to achieve. If you want to warn people that a product contains marijuana, an octagon – which is the familiar shape of stop signs nationwide – would make a lot more sense than this diamond. Inside that stop sign-shaped symbol should be an image of a marijuana leaf, or the words “for adult use only” or something else that can be easily understood. An octagon with “21+” would have made a more impactful warning than an exclamation point followed by “THC.”

It seems to me that Colorado is forgetting who we’re trying to educate with this label. This is a warning symbol, and it’s supposed to let children and others know that this product contains psychoactive cannabis. But how many children, and how many adults who are not cannabis consumers, have any clue what the acronym “THC” means? Those who purchase cannabis products may know that Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. This symbol might be meaningful to them; but for everyone else, it doesn’t inform—it confuses. Some might even mistake the “THC” symbol for the brand or product name.

Gamet: I think we’ve got a more positive take on the issue. Even though the use of this symbol won’t be required until next October, we’re already getting a lot of calls from people who want to start implementing it now. In fact, I’d say that a lot of people in our industry are breathing big sighs of relief about this. Why? Because it clears up the uncertainty that had existed in the market regarding packaging regulations. This symbol and these requirements are universal for the entire state. Producers can simply get in compliance and get back to focusing on their business.

Plus, since so many packages will be featuring the new symbol sooner rather than later, this will only help accomplish the state’s goal regarding the regulatory and enforcement environment. By getting started almost a year in advance, the early adopters might see greater acceptance amongst medical marijuana patients and retail marijuana buyers.

Gilinski : While I agree that it’s great that the uncertainty is eliminated, I still contend that this particular symbol is a poor choice. If I’m a five-year-old and I see a brownie with a diamond and the letters “THC” inside, will I stop? Probably not. But if I see what looks like a red stop sign, there’s a higher chance that I’ll think twice before taking a bite.

CBE: How will these new regulations affect your products? Do you anticipate having any difficulty complying?

Gamet: The fact that the regulations have now been issued is actually a big plus for our clients. Before, people were afraid to place large orders for packaging, because we all knew some sort of rules were in the making, and nobody wanted to be stuck with excess stock that couldn’t be used before the rules went into effect. Now our clients are able to buy in bulk and take advantage of the lower prices available with larger production runs.

On the other hand, for those who usually print their batch numbers on their packaging, buying in bulk creates issues in itself. What we’re recommending to our clients is that while they’re redesigning their packaging to be compliant with these regulations, they should leave a space where they can either hand print the batch number or affix a printed sticker with the batch number and other pertinent information for that lot.

Gilinski : For The Capsule Consulting Group, compliance with these rules will actually be quite simple. We offer a full line of premium capsule products for the cannabis industry. We already have the ability to imprint these capsules, and many of our clients are already taking advantage of these capabilities to brand their capsule products with an imprint of the milligram dosage and their logo. Colorado’s new ruling simply means that all Colorado producers of cannabis capsules will have to start imprinting their capsules. Which gives all of them the opportunity to also include their milligram dosage and logo as well.

Eschino: We started putting the amount of activated THC on our bars over a year ago.  These new rules will force us to make new molds because of the new symbol and the placement on the product.  Since they have now made 2 different symbols for medical and adult use, we will have to make 2 different sets of molds for each market.  There are some of our products that we might have to discontinue with the new rule change, but we are working on solutions now to keep them on the market.

CBE: How do you see this universal symbol impacting the industry outside of Colorado?

Gilinski : I anticipate that more states will follow suit as they develop their own labeling laws. As the trend continues, this symbol – and other state-specific symbols as well – may eventually be replaced by one globally-recognized and truly universal symbol. At which point, of course, everyone will have to re-do their packaging one more time.

Eschino: I’m not sure, but I hope the rest of the states do not follow suit. This is putting expensive constraints on Colorado companies and for companies that don’t have access to tradition money sources, it’s a very difficult hurdle. As the cost to manufacture increases, it forces the retail prices up.  The could potentially push customers back to the illegal market.


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