Interviews

Marijuana Packaging Searches for Balance Between Safety and Utility

Cannabis packages come in numerous shapes, sizes and puzzles.
Cannabis packages come in numerous shapes, sizes and puzzles. Courtesy of STO Responsible
Being a cannabis consumer and parent at the same time comes with numerous challenges, and everyone approaches them differently. But there's one guideline we can all agree on: Keep your cannabis products away from kids.

A rise in accidental edible ingestion after a state legalizes cannabis is seemingly inevitable, and Colorado hasn't been immune. To learn more about safe cannabis storage at home and what pot packaging manufacturers can do to further limit the risk of accidental ingestion, we interviewed STO Responsible co-founder Sandra Elkind. A child-resistant cannabis package maker since 2015, the Denver-based operation produces a variety of different packages for dispensary products, from edibles to pre-rolled joints.

Westword: Maybe it's because I just watched Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, but puzzles keep coming to mind when I think about cannabis packaging. Is making approved cannabis packaging like crafting a puzzle?

Sandra Elkind: Yes. In fact, there are two ways to make good child-safe packaging: One is based on force and the strength of a child's hand, and the other is a puzzle. Those are the two main routes to get to child safety. There's a learning curve to opening a puzzle, which can take a little more time, but once you know how to do it, it's easy. We like going that route rather than relying on the strength of a child's hands, because some senior citizens are using these packages, too.

It's important that once the consumer is over the learning curve, it's easy to keep opening after that, because you want them to continue using the child-resistant package after they get home. If it continues requiring force, they're not likely to keep using it. It's a bit of a balance in trying to figure out which way to go.

Sometimes I have trouble opening these packages and end up hacking open an edibles container with a knife.

That's something we've talked a lot about, especially when it comes to bags. Most consumers just cut them open and put the product in a Ziploc bag. That's frustrating from a sustainability standpoint, because you're now using two bags for one product, but it's also a risk — not just for kids, but for pets, too. Dogs and cats. It's kind of sad when you see people joking on social media about their dog getting into a stash. A large percentage of child-resistant packaging works on dogs, as well.

How much of these safety issues are on the parents, and how much is on the cannabis industry? Some cannabis businesses make products children are clearly finding attractive, so what responsibilities do they bear here?

It really comes down to what do you do when you get home? Something as simple as putting it on the top shelf of your pantry or tucking it back in the freezer can be just as important as keeping it in the child-resistant packaging.

We look at our role in this way: As long as it's in the package, it's on us to make sure that children cannot get into it. That's why you have certification for being a multi-use child-resistant product, which cannabis packaging is. I don't have any control over what people do with it at home, but we hope we can continue to educate and create packaging that encourages you to continue to use it.

When it comes to the products themselves, I think the State of Colorado banning edibles resembling products that children are familiar with, like Oreos and shapes of gummy bears, is good, but it's still food at the end of the day. A child isn't going to open a bottle of vodka and drink it all, or even take one sip without rejecting it. But a brownie is still a chocolate brownie regardless what shape or package it's in, and a child is going to be attracted to eating it.

It's hard to say this, but there is a fifty-fifty responsibility if you're going to be a parent or pet owner and you're going to buy edibles products. Parents and pet owners usually want to keep products out of reach and keep their consumption away from them, because a child tends to mimic their parents. If they see you eating a brownie and setting it down, they might pick that brownie up and take a bite. And it's not just edibles, either. If you dry vape flower, the leftover flower from the vape is still [intoxicating] if a child or animal ate it.

Are there any laws or rule changes that could help decrease the risk of accidental cannabis ingestion?

I think Colorado has a done a good job of leading the way and working through different packaging regulations. The state initially allowed products to leave the dispensary in sealed exit bags if they weren't already in child-resistant packaging, and that clearly wasn't working out, so they changed the rules. I personally feel that more rigid packaging is safer than sealed bags, because animals can still chew through it, and people can always cut through them. I'm not saying ban all bags, but if that is what you use for cannabis, then I would look into a layer of locked storage at home, like Stashlogix.

Every household does it differently. Some parents don't even leave alcohol out, others will, and others will lock the liquor cabinet. It's definitely a challenge for parents. It's not something only the cannabis industry has to deal with. Whether it's housecleaning products, magnets, X-Acto knives, there are items kids are attracted to and put into their mouths. Kudos to the cannabis industry members that didn't push back against more strict packaging, because the more we can keep kids from accidentally ingesting cannabis products, the better it is for the industry as a whole.

Product labeling and the pictures and graphics on cannabis packaging play a role in attracting kids. How has the cannabis industry approached that over the years?

Since 2015, it has absolutely improved. Today it's all pretty standard, but when the industry was strictly medical or just getting started on the recreational side, there was no child-resistant packaging and loads of knockoffs and cheater brands. It was, like, anything goes. Then the laws switched, and brands began tightening up their branding and labels. It used to be a lot more juvenile-looking, but the industry has matured into more sophistication.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell

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