Guide to Cannabis Labeling and Packaging

2018 Update

Labeling and packaging requirements impact all the players as cannabis products travel up the supply chain. Cannabis operators in California have to comply with a number of packaging and labeling laws that the government has established to protect consumers.

While some states have been fine with exit packaging only, California requires individual items for retail sale to be tamper-evident, re-sealable if containing multiple packages, and child resistant. Both models have pros and cons, with the latter model removing the ability for manufacturers to ‘rely on’ exit packaging instead of making their individual packaging solid. 

In this guide we dive into general packaging requirements, labeling requirements for different license types, and general packaging requirements. After reading it you will know what the labeling requirements are that pertain to you and start your journey towards compliant packaging. Bookmark this page if you would like to revisit it as we will be updating it from time to time.

PLEASE NOTE: 'Child-resistant' is an actual certification and not a general difficulty assessment.


Table of Contents

Packaging Requirements for Cannabis Companies

Labeling Requirements For Cannabis Companies

a. Cannabis Labeling For Manufacturers

b. Cannabis Labeling For Cultivators and Processors

c. Cannabis Labeling For Distributors

d. PROP 65

Packaging requirements for cannabis companies

The following are general guidelines to adhere to for packaging and applies to any license type:

  1. Able to protect product(s) from contamination and prevent exposure to any toxic or harmful substance

  2. Tamper-evident seal so that the contents cannot be opened without obvious breaking of the seal

  3. Child-resistant whereby it is difficult for children under five years of age to access the contents of the package within a ‘reasonable time’, but not prohibitive for adults to open the package and access the contents

  4. Not attractive to children nor imitating products typically marketed to children

  5. Opaque in the case of an edible product

  6. If the package contains more than one serving of cannabis product, it must be re-sealable so that child-resistance is maintained throughout the life of the package.

labeling requirements for cannabis companies

The following are requirements for different cannabis license types that companies may hold:

Cannabis Labeling for Manufacturers

Manufacturers have the most stringent cannabis labeling requirements of all license types. These requirements are for both manufacturers (Type 6, 7) and Type Ps that label, package, re-label, and re-package cannabis products, as well as some for Type N:

Written in English and the wording is “unobstructed and conspicuous” so that it can be “read by the consumer.” 
Placed on the outside of the package / container (whereas the supplemental and “side effects” information can go on the inside of the packaging through inserts). There are two panel labeling requirements that we describe below. 
The primary panel is the part of the label consumers will see at retail locations. The informational panel may be attached anywhere else on the package.

Primary Label
The primary label must contain the following is 6-point font or larger and in relation to the size of the primary panel and container/package:

  1. Product identity - A generic or common name that describes the product. Examples include Chocolate Chip cookie, gummy, vape cartridge, topical etc.

  2. Universal symbol [in black, at least 0.5”x0.5”] which is a California symbol identifying products as containing cannabis. The symbol is available for download in different formats in the Tools for Licensees section here.

  3. Net weight or volume of the cannabis product excluding the packaging.

  4. Total amount of THC and CBD per package [in milligrams]; other cannabinoids may be listed but are not required.

For edibles, the following requirements also apply:

  1. The words “cannabis-infused” must be immediately above the product identity, in bold type and a text size larger than the text size used for the identity of the product;

  2. The THC content and CBD content per serving, expressed in milligrams per serving;

  3. Universal symbol (for both edible and non-edible goods)

Information Label
The following must be in no less than 6 point font as well, in relation to the size of the primary panel and container/package, with limited exceptions depending on how much room you have with the label):

  1. The name of the licensed manufacturer and the phone number or website; this name must match the legal or DBA name listed on the CDPH license.

  2. Date of manufacture

  3. List of ingredients in descending order by weight or volume, with highest at the top

  4. Instructions for using (consuming / applying), and any preparation necessary prior to use (up to the manufacturer);

  5. UID number issued through state’s Track-and-Trace (once you have gained access to the track and trace system; do not create a placeholder UID); if you are in a city or county that has additional traceability requirements, you will need to comply with those as well

  6. The following warning statement (in capital letters and bold font): “GOVERNMENT WARNING: THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS CANNABIS, A SCHEDULE I CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN AND ANIMALS. CANNABIS PRODUCTS MAY ONLY BE POSSESSED OR CONSUMED BY PERSONS 21 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER UNLESS THE PERSON IS A QUALIFIED PATIENT. THE INTOXICATING EFFECTS OF CANNABIS PRODUCTS MAY BE DELAYED UP TO TWO HOURS. CANNABIS USE WHILE PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING MAY BE HARMFUL. CONSUMPTION OF CANNABIS PRODUCTS IMPAIRS YOUR ABILITY TO DRIVE AND OPERATE MACHINERY. PLEASE USE EXTREME CAUTION;

  7. “FOR MEDICAL USE ONLY” if the product is for medicinal cannabis market and applies to non-edible products with > 1000mg THC

  8. Expiration date of cannabis product, with use-by or best-by date (if any)

  9. Batch number [if any]

For edibles, the following also apply:

  1. If the product contains an ingredient, flavoring, coloring, or an incidental additive that contains a major food allergen, include the word “contains,” followed by a list of the applicable major food allergens;

  2. Can't include the word 'organic' anywhere

  3. The names of any artificial food colorings contained in the product and the amount, in grams, of sodium, sugar, carbohydrates, and total fat per serving;

The primary panel labeling information and the government warning statement have to be on the package itself. If the packaging is is too small to fit all of the informational labeling, you can use a supplemental label for those additional requirements.

Examples of supplemental labels include a paper inserted into the packaging, a hang tag or a peel-back label.

Cannabis Labeling for Cultivators and Processors

This section details cannabis labeling requirements for cultivators and processors. Cultivators can grow and process their own flower. Processors only trim, dry, cure, grade, package, and/or label flower or non-manufactured cannabis: they don’t grow anything. 

The following are regulations for cultivators and processors when packaging cannabis flower (or cannabis pre-rolls without any infusions) for retail sale (including the same font, conspicuous placement, and English language requirements as manufacturers):

  1. All cannabis has to be labeled and placed in a resealable, tamper-evident, child-resistant package and must include, once available, a unique identifier for the purposes of identifying and tracking cannabis and cannabis products (that should be state or local issued, not self-generated).

  2. The licensed cultivator or licensee packaging the cannabis (either the legal business name or the registered DBA listed on the license certificate) and its contact number or website address

  3. The date of packaging for retail sale

  4. The following statement in capital and bold print: “GOVERNMENT WARNING: THIS PACKAGE CONTAINS CANNABIS, A SCHEDULE I CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN AND ANIMALS. CANNABIS MAY ONLY BE POSSESSED OR CONSUMED BY PERSONS 21 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER UNLESS THE PERSON IS A QUALIFIED PATIENT. CANNABIS USE WHILE PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING MAY BE HARMFUL. CONSUMPTION OF CANNABIS IMPAIRS YOUR ABILITY TO DRIVE AND OPERATE MACHINERY. PLEASE USE EXTREME CAUTION.”;

  5. The net weight of cannabis in the package (in metric and U.S. customary units)

  6. Identification of the source and date of cultivation, the type of cannabis, and the date of packaging

  7. The UID

  8. Appellation of origin, if any

  9. List of pharmacologically active ingredients, including, but not limited to:

  10. THC, CBD, and other cannabinoid content

  11. The THC and other cannabinoid amount in % (no longer just milligrams per serving)

  12. Servings per package

  13. THC and other cannabinoid amount in milligrams for the package total

  14. Information associated with the unique identifier issued by the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

Additionally, a flower label may specify the county of origin only if 100% of the cannabis or non-manufactured cannabis product contained in the package was produced within the designated county, as defined by finite political boundaries. For more on cannabis appellations in California, see here.

Please note that Pre-rolls that only contain flower must follow all packaging and labeling standards outlined in the California Business and Professions Code. Pre-rolls that contain both flower and concentrates ("infused pre-rolls") must meet all packaging and labeling required of manufactured products (listed above), as outlined in the MCSB regulations for cannabis manufacturers.

Cannabis Labeling for Distributors

This section details labeling responsibilities for distributors. Type 11-Distributors are responsible for quality assurance of the packaging and labeling, and ensuring that they are compliant with state regulations.

  • A distributor may package, re-package, label, and re-label cannabis for retail sale.

  • A distributor shall not package, re-package, label, or re-label manufactured cannabis products except when the distributor also holds a manufacturing license and is packaging, re-packaging, labeling, or re-labeling its own manufactured cannabis products.

  • Allows distributors to re-label packages with the accurate amount of cannabinoids and terpenoids post-laboratory testing in certain circumstances.

According to these regulations, distributors are the final check of packaging before products reach retail shelves. They have to ascertain that the labeling and packaging meets state’s requirements (as described earlier) and is accurate. In many cases distributors also package themselves, such as when they purchase flower, and have to abide by the requirements below. 

Lastly, distributors have to carry out a final commercial readiness / compliance test, and these test results may conflict with the non-compliance test the manufacturer may have done on their own, prior to giving custody or title to the distributor.  In this case, distributors may need to relabel packages if the testing results don’t match what’s on the labels.

Batch Labeling for Storage

According to the regulations, a distributor shall ensure a label with the following information is physically attached to each batch container:

  1. The name and license number of the manufacturer or cultivator who provided the batch;

  2. The date of entry into the distributor’s storage area;

  3. The unique identifiers and batch number associated with the batch;

  4. A description of the cannabis goods with enough detail to easily identify the batch;

  5. The weight of or quantity of units in the batch; and

  6. The best-by, sell-by, or expiration date of the batch, if any.

Please note that there are max batch sizes for the different cannabis product categories (i.e. 50 lbs for flower etc.) so you will want to ensure that your stored batch(es) don’t exceed those amounts. The rest of the points are fairly standard, except for #3 which calls for unique identifiers which will probably be arbitrarily numbered starting from Batch 1, until the track and trace system is implemented. 

Lastly, you have the freedom to specify the unit of measure you wish to use. As per #3, only use the state and/or local track and trace generated UIDs (do not concoct your own).

Prop 65

This applies to products manufactured starting August, 2018

California’s Proposition 65, a voter initiative passed in 1986, created the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Health & Safety Code § 25249.5 et seq.), which requires that the seller of a product that contains chemical(s) known by the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm must provide a warning to anyone who buys the product, unless there is already a clear and sufficient warning printed on the label or package. 

Warnings must also be given if there is a possibility of environmental exposure to a chemical on the list of substances that cause cancer or reproductive harm. Penalties for violating Proposition 65’s warning requirement can be as high as $2,500 per day.

Currently cannabis companies are attaching a warning that looks something like:

WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.

The current environmental exposure warning for a carcinogen must include the following language:

“WARNING: This area contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”

The required warnings for chemicals known to cause reproductive harm are identical, except the word “cancer” is replaced with “birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

In the near future this warning statement will no longer suffice. Instead, unless you meet one of the few exceptions (one of which is that your product was manufactured prior to August 30, 2018 and contains the September 2008 safe harbor warnings), you’ll need to follow the new regulations, which call for identifying at least one triggering chemical depending on the type of harm caused by that chemical.

These new regulations are designed to provide consumers with more specific notice of the chemicals contained in products sold within the state. Between now and August 30, 2018, businesses can choose to continue following the existing regulations or to begin following the new regulations immediately. (For a side-by-side comparison of the current and new reasonable warning regulations, check out this link. 

The new exposure warning messages must include the following:

  1. A symbol consisting of a black exclamation point in a yellow equilateral triangle with a bold black outline. Where the sign, label or shelf tag for the product is not printed using the color yellow, the symbol may be printed in black and white. The symbol shall be placed to the left of the text of the warning, in a size no smaller than the height of the word “WARNING”.

  2. The word “WARNING” in all capital letters and bold print

  3. For exposures to listed carcinogens, the words, “This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”

Additionally, on-product warnings for products containing a known cancer-causing agent require the symbol required in §25603(a) (1), the word “WARNING” in bold capital letters, and the following words: “Cancer – www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.” The name of the listed chemical is not required to be printed on a product warning label.

The key differences between the current and the new “clear and reasonable” warning regulations are:

  • The current regulations do not require that the specific listed chemical be identified, whereas the new regulations do, at least for the long form version of the warning;

  • New regulations require a change in the warning sign to now include a yellow (or black-and-white) triangle with an exclamation point

  • An emphasis of burden on manufacturers and packagers rather than retail sellers where possible, while also providing a mechanism to allocate legal responsibility for providing such warnings.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Businesses with 9 or less employees are exempt from this requirement. Also, Prop. 65 includes only marijuana smoke and myrcene on its list of cancer-causing substances, thus this rule may not apply to edible or topical marijuana products that do not contain myrcene, granted they do not contain any other chemical on the Prop. 65 list, (pesticides etc.). Note, however, that a warning still may be needed for products that can be vaporized, since certain chemicals used in vapor products may be included on this list.

DISTRU

At Distru we're working diligently to help you stay compliant with your inventory. To learn more about us, check out our Features page, or contact us at hello@distru.com with any questions or comments. Revisit this page from time to time to check for updates .