California Marijuana Potency and Packaging Rules

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California has the largest legal marijuana market in the world with a projected $3.1 billion in sales in 2019. As the market continues to grow, many entrepreneurs are interested in growing, packaging or selling cannabis products in the Golden State. To be successful, business owners must avoid making packaging and labeling mistakes, or their products can get pulled from the market.

Getting Licensed to Sell Marijuana in California

Each type of marijuana business requires a different type of license from the State of California. For example, a business owner cannot manufacture and run a dispensary under the same license. Instead, that person would need to obtain a separate manufacturing license and selling license from the state.

Before applying for a state license, a prospective marijuana business owner must get the appropriate permissions from the city and/or county. Some jurisdictions allow only a specific number of marijuana businesses within a specific radius, while others do not allow marijuana businesses at all.

Once a business owner gets permissions from the local governments, the owner can apply for a license with the appropriate state agency. The California Bureau of Cannabis Control oversees licensing for dispensaries, testing laboratories and distribution businesses. Those who want to grow marijuana need licenses from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Potency Rules for Cannabis Products

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the compound in marijuana that gives users a high. California limits the amount of THC that can be in each edible cannabis product if the product is intended for recreational use. Such products may only contain 100 milligrams of THC.

However, no such limits exist for medical marijuana in California. A dispensary must ask the customer for a medical marijuana identification card in order to sell an edible cannabis product that contains more than 100 milligrams of THC. This makes up 81 percent of the edible marijuana products on the legal market in California.

Other cannabis products do not have to meet these strict THC potency requirements. However, they must have labels that indicate how much THC is in the product. Licensed third-party laboratories then test products for potency. If the true potency is off by more than 10 percent of that stated on the label, the businessperson must either remove the product from the market or use a more accurate label.

Basic Packaging Laws for Cannabis Products

The Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act outlines packaging rules for marijuana products in the Golden State. California law gave business owners two years in which they could get their packaging and labeling to meet the state's strict requirements. Starting January 1, 2020, all cannabis products must be in compliant packaging in order to be sold.

The packaging laws in California are complex with different rules for each type of cannabis product. For example, edible products containing THC must be in opaque packaging, but other types of products do not need this. Some basic rules that apply to all cannabis products include:

  • A consumer must be able to tell if a product was tampered with before opening.
  • All cannabis product packaging must include child-resistant features.
  • Packaging cannot appeal to children.
  • Packaging cannot imitate non-cannabis products.

While these rules give people a general sense of what packaging should look like, it's important to dig into the details of these requirements. Otherwise, the state may make a business go through an expensive repackaging or relabeling process.

Cultivators, manufacturers and distributors are all allowed to package cannabis flower. However, the manufacturer must be the one to package and label all other cannabis products.

Child-Resistant Packaging (CRP) Laws

Depending on the type of cannabis product being sold, it may need packaging that is child-resistant just once or after every use. Single-Use CRP refers to packaging that is child-resistant before it is opened the first time, but not after the consumer opens it. Lifetime CRP is when a package remains child-resistant after many uses.

Some cannabis products require only Single-Use CRP, including:

  • Cannabis flowers.
  • Cannabis flower-only pre-rolls.
  • Single-serving cannabis products of all kinds.
  • Cannabis products made for topical use.
  • Cannabis concentrates made for inhaling.

Edibles, suppositories and concentrates for oral consumption need lifetime CRP, which should remain child-resistant for as long as the package is used. In order to meet these standards, manufacturers must know what qualifies as child-resistant. California uses definitions from the federal Poison Prevention Packaging Act for child-resistant packaging.

Basic Labeling Laws for Cannabis Products

As with cannabis packaging, the labeling laws in California are both strict and complex. In general, all cannabis products must follow these rules:

  • Cannabis products cannot be marketed as "organic" or "healthy".
  • All labels should include the THC concentration.
  • All information should be clear and legible.
  • Information on labels should be in English.
  • Printing should be in at least six-point type.
  • Labels should be on the outer layer of the packaging.
  • Businesses can include other information, so long as it is truthful.

The state also has rules regarding the information required on each part of the label. It's important to follow these regulations exactly. If the state finds mislabeled products, businesses may be forced to undergo an expensive relabeling process.

What the Primary Panel Label Must Include

The primary panel is the information that is displayed to the customers at the retail location. In most cases, this is the front of the top panel of a package. On cannabis products, the primary label must first include a short description of the product, such as "cannabis flower," or "cannabis-infused brownie."

The primary panel must also include the net weight of the product in both U.S. customary and metric units. Finally, the primary panel should be the location of the universal symbol for cannabis. This symbol should be at least one-half inch by one-half inch and printed in black. The website for the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch has the image for downloading.

What to Include on the Information Panel

The information panel is any area of the packaging aside from the primary panel. On cannabis products, the information panels should include the UID number, which is a number issued to each product in the Trace-and-Track system.

Information panels should also include the name and phone number of the business that cultivated or packaged the product. The website can be provided in lieu of the phone number. The information panel should also include the date it was packaged for retail sale and the required government warnings.

Universal Symbol and Government Warning

All marijuana products must include the universal symbol for marijuana, which the state provides. Businesses should not alter the image in any way. Furthermore, every cannabis product needs the state government warning. The words from the warning must be exactly as the state provides on the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch website. It should also be in all capital letters and bold print. Edible products with more than 100 milligrams of THC must be labeled with "FOR MEDICAL USE ONLY," as they are not meant to be sold for recreational use.

The THC concentration can be on either the primary panel or information panel. It should be written as a percentage of the total package content. The actual concentration in any given sample of the product must be within 10 percent of the number listed on the package in order to stay in compliance.

Labeling Restrictions on Cannabis Products

California marijuana laws make some specific restrictions regarding labeling. For example, the label cannot name any county in California unless 100 percent of the cannabis was grown in that county. As with all product packaging, nothing on the label of cannabis products should mislead consumers.

Marijuana products in California must not be enticing to minors in any way. For example, the label should not include the word "candy" or any variation of it. The labeling should also refrain from including cartoons that typically appeal to children.

Finally, labels should not make unproven claims about the health benefits of the product. The federal Food and Drug Administration carefully monitors all health claims on consumer products. Any health claims made on these products should be backed by a totality of peer-reviewed studies that are available to the public.

Additional Packaging Rules for Edibles

Edible cannabis products must meet all the same packaging and labeling standards as other marijuana products – and then some. Most notably, edibles must be in opaque packaging that consumers cannot see through. The State of California considers amber-colored glass bottles to be opaque.

If edibles have more than one serving per package, the label must clearly indicate the serving size. With liquid items, manufacturers can use thin, clear lines to help identify serving sizes. The term "cannabis-infused" must be clearly legible above the name of the product on the label.

Labels on Cannabis Products

As with other food products in California, edible cannabis products must contain a full list of ingredients. The ingredients should be measured by weight or volume, and then listed in order of most to least amount in the product.

Labels on edible cannabis products should also include the total grams of fats, sodium, carbohydrates and sugar per serving. Labels should list any artificial food dyes that manufacturers use in the process and any known allergens.

Add Proposition 65 Warning if Applicable

Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65, aims to keep consumers informed about chemicals that may cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. In accordance with the law, the state government keeps a list of all chemicals known to cause these harms.

Proposition 65 also requires companies to add warning labels to their products if they contain any chemical on the state's list. Manufacturers and distributors should ensure that they abide by this ruling where necessary. Cannabis is not on the state's list of harmful chemicals, but other components of cannabis products could be, including many food dyes.

Dispensary Exit Bags

In addition to the many laws about the packaging and labeling of cannabis products, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control sets rules about exit bags. Every shopper who buys marijuana products must leave the store with the products in an opaque bag. When the law first passed, the state allowed existing dispensaries to use whatever exit bags they had until their supply ran out.

Retailers must ensure that passersby cannot see what is inside the exit bags, but the law does not provide any further clarification on what passes as opaque. Some dispensaries use mylar bags as a means of ensuring they remain in compliance. Retailers are allowed to charge a small fee for the exit bags.

Read More: California Marijuana Dispensary Laws: Retail & Licensing

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About the Author

Mackenzie Maxwell has always been interested in law, working with legal issues since 2010. She served in Congress for some time, as part of the communications team for Silvestre Reyes and helped constituents understand the laws on the House floor. She stayed active in local politics to understand the laws that govern her area. As a writer, Mackenzie has worked with several lawyers to create thoughtful, helpful content.