Buying Marijuana: How Packaging Affects the Consumer

Packaged Edibles with Label
Photo by: Dan Holm/Shutterstock

From a marketing standpoint, cannabis is pretty foolproof. As long as you offer your marijuana at the right price point, “if you grow it, they will come!”However, if you’re a producer looking to differentiate your cannabis product from the rest, packaging becomes a huge deal, especially in states where your customers can’t even smell the product. How will increasingly strict packaging laws affect how consumers are choosing and buying marijuana?

Unboxing Packaging Laws

If you’re a customer in Colorado, buying marijuana is something of a sensory experience. You can browse large jars of fresh flower and have a budtender open up the lid so you can really see the buds and trichomes clearly. Not to mention that you can tell a good deal about the quality of cannabis by its smell! In Colorado, flower can be seen and smelled in person, as long as it leaves the dispensary in a child-resistant container or “exit bag.”

Jars of Marijuana Stacked
Photo by: OpenRangeStock/Shutterstock
However, in other states, you have far less access to the cannabis product and have to rely much more heavily on packaging to determine what you want to buy. In Washington state, for example, you can kiss goodbye the idea of choosing your bud based on smell.

Packaging laws in Washington mandate that “all usable marijuana and marijuana-infused products must be stored behind a counter,” (or some other barrier) with the express purpose of making sure you don’t get to see or smell the products in person. For most of us, that makes buying marijuana something of a guessing game.

What’s on a Label?

So, if you can’t judge based on look or scent, what can you look for when browsing pre-packaged marijuana?

Every state has their own rules on what must be included on a label, but they are mostly focused on warning labels and child-resistance rather than making producers disclose more about the makeup of their product.

The only concrete information that’s required on labels in Washington is the amount of total THC, activated THC-A, total CBD, and activated CBD-A. While this is certainly useful information, it completely ignores the other cannabinoids present that affect the qualities of the product. Some producers voluntarily step up their game and provide wider cannabinoid profiles, and/or terpene profiles.

Terpenes are a crucial component to the experience a particular strain and batch provides. Savvy customers with the extra cash are more likely to go for a product with the terpene information on the label.

Graphics and Design


Packaged Edibles with Label
Photo by: Dan Holm/Shutterstock
On the other hand, if you want to spice up your otherwise bland-ish bud, you can use packaging design as your main marketing scheme. Many of the most successful brands shelled out the money for top-tier design, because the legitimacy of skilled visual branding definitely draws in more customers.

Even that doesn’t work out too well in some states. In Oregon, you can’t use any visual design that’s deemed “attractive to minors.” That means a lot of restrictions, like not labeling anything “candy” or “candies” and not using any form of cartoon-style art whatsoever. While that’s good for keeping kids away from weed, it puts a damper on the amount of creativity packaging can display.

Ultimately, most consumers want to buy what looks the best and what’s the most thoroughly tested. It’s up to producers to provide the information we want in a package we like to look at.