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Cannabis Labeling 101: Best Practices

The ever-expanding legal cannabis industry is rife with rules and regulations

The ever-expanding legal cannabis industry is rife with rules and regulations dictating the manner and style of labeling, as well as the language and warnings also required to be included on product labels. It’s important for retail cannabis businesses to understand the role that federal, state, and local labeling laws play in the cannabis industry and to stay up-to-date on best practices in the market today.

Federal Labeling Laws

Cannabis is still not a regulated business category at the federal level due to its status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. So what does this absence of federal regulation mean for cannabusiness owners? It means that labeling laws all depend on what state you’re operating in. Labeling requirements, rules, and regulations are always explicitly outlined in the state regulatory regimes.

State Labeling Laws

State-level labeling regulations are drafted with two objectives in mind: regulators want clear communication about the contents of the product or package, and they also want to protect the public’s health and safety. Before determining what to include on your label, keep in mind that there are a lot of exceptions and variations to the rules depending on what specific category your product is in. Two types of labeling rules for cannabis products are consistent across all legal states right now: presentation rules and content rules. Presentation Rules govern the aesthetics of the label. Some examples of standard presentation rules across state lines are that all packaging must be light-resistant and child-resistant. Light-resistant packaging means containers must be opaque and conceal the contents within. All of the labels and packaging must only appeal to adults- this means you can’t label your product with a cartoon character that would catch a child’s eye. Choosing a labeling convention based on different colors will help your customers differentiate between varied products belonging to the same line. Just keep in mind that you cannot use a brightly colored color palette that will appeal to kids. Content rules govern what information is considered essential and must be included on the label. Some examples of essential content rules include the brand name, identification of the product, and contact information. Some states are starting to require the inclusion of specific information that will help your customer understand and use the product correctly. Content rules vary greatly compared to presentation rules. The general rules mentioned here aren’t blanket rules nationwide. One downside to this is that under these current rules if someone wishes to build a national brand reaching across state lines, the labeling is likely to vary state-to-state and compliance gets more complicated. Most states currently require a recommended dose, warnings, the specific quantity, the name of medicine, and expiration date to be placed on every label. The specific quantity requirement is important to highlight- labels must list the minimum and maximum percentage content by weigh of the following: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA); cannabidiol (CBD); cannabidiolic acid (CBDA); and any other ingredients besides cannabis. This includes any pesticides. All cannabis products must state “Keep Out of Reach of Children” on the label, along with any mandatory allergen warnings. Medical cannabis products must also state “Product is for medical use and not for resale or transfer to another person.”

Cannabis Labeling 101 Case Study: California Labeling Laws

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Assembly Bill 266 includes labeling regulations for medical marijuana. Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, includes labeling standards for recreational cannabis products. Some notable provisions include the fact that the Net Weight must be listed, along with any Appellation of Origin. Labels in California must also include Unique Identifiers, which are issued by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Many more regulations are expected to be added to the labeling requirements in California next year. It’s wise for cannabusinesses operating in California to go ahead and include language complying with Proposition 65 on their label. Prop 65 was passed in California in 1986 and mandates that businesses must notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase. Under Prop 65, the state publishes a list each year containing every chemical known to cause cancer or birth defects/reproductive harm.  In 2009, marijuana smoke was added to the list as a known cancer-causing agent. This means that all smokable cannabis should technically be labeled “This product is known to cause cancer”. This rule is enforced outside of California’s cannabis program by a different government body, which is perhaps why it’s left out of this year’s cannabis labeling regulations. However, businesses who don’t use this label on all smokable cannabis are technically out of compliance with state law and subject to fines. This is why it’s always important to pay attention to updates in your state’s labeling requirements for all retail cannabis and cannabis products.

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