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Designing packaging for medical marijuana presents unique challenges

Marjorie Fischer is Brand Manager at Auntie Dolores, an Oakland-based leader in the medical cannabis movement and a producer of medical edibles sold through licensed dispensaries. She talks about what it’s like to develop packaging for such a new industry.

Packaging World:
In developing packaging for the cannabis industry, what are some of the unique challenges you face?

Marjorie Fischer:
The central challenge is that it’s not just about branding, appearance, and functionality. In the cannabis industry we have to think about legality on a state-by-state basis. After eight years of selling medical edibles in licensed dispensaries in California, we’re just now entering the state of Washington. To do so, we need a licensing partner, and this we have. But we also have to create an entirely new label for the packages that will be sold in Washington because their regulations aren’t the same as California’s. In what other industry do you have to revamp your packaging each time you go to a new state?

Doesn’t this make the idea of expanding into additional states untenable?
No, because there’s so much demand for really high-quality medical edibles. Not a day goes by that we don’t get requests for our products from all over the country, all over the world actually. The demand outstrips barriers to entry such as packaging complications.

Do you have any plans for states beyond Washington?
Nevada is next, if not this year then early next year.

So you’re going to need new packaging in every state you choose to enter?
Very likely the answer is yes. At this point, every state has its own set of laws that you have to follow. Sometimes it affects nothing more than the wording on the package. But other times it requires a change in the packaging format itself. Take our pretzels, for example. In California we put about 24 pretzels in a canister and indicate that a recommended serving size is two. But in Washington they require that each recommended serving be individually wrapped. So that’s the approach we’ll have to take. Our licensing partner in Washington is looking into that now, and whatever Washington state regulations require is what we’ll do.

Have you done much in recent years to modify your packaging?
As a matter of fact we just made a shift from plastic bags to paper canisters. We decided it was time to create some really beautiful brand packaging. The cannabis industry hasn’t done very much in the way of branding. But as we look forward we realize that in order for our business to grow and be sustainable, our packaging needs to be about more than just following the regulations and keeping the product fresh. It needs to be about attracting customers. So that’s what led to this new look. Customers love it.

What about secondary packaging and distribution? Do you go through a central distribution system?
I’d like to think we’ll be large enough for central distribution one day, but we’re not there now. We put the canisters into paperboard shippers and do our own delivery on our own trucks. We also have a hub down in Los Angeles from which we deliver for clients in Southern California. We work with distributors in Southern California, as well. (For more on Auntie Dolores, click here).

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