The American Cannabis Industry

Written by: Cooper Newnam

The road to legal cannabis use in the United States has been a long and complicated one. When many people think of the States they think of backward and strict laws in regards to alcohol and cannabis, but now that point of view is changing with the initial push to legalize medical marijuana, and quite a few states have even successfully passed laws to allow full recreational use of the substance as well. Consumers of marijuana have been pushing for drastic change starting back since the initial hard-line criminalization once Nixon’s War on Drugs was declared in 1971. While there have always been consumers of marijuana, what the cannabis market in the U.S. lacked (because of criminalization) was the ability to grow and change with the consumers themselves. Operating in secret meant also not drawing attention to the product being sold as well. 

This created a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs once the market opened up legally because now you have a huge consumer group looking for a safe and controlled product. Aside from the massive amounts of products that can be produced from the newly legalized substance, there was also competition created between businesses to market their products to specific consumers, this, in turn, created a large need for creative packaging and marketing to stand out from other brands. 

While the U.S. has just recently created a market of opportunity for themselves with full legalization (in some states), other countries have had semi-legality or loopholes already in place long ago. The Netherlands is almost everyone’s idea of a country with lax marijuana laws when in reality it isn’t that way at all. There are a few laws put in place that prohibit the distribution of marijuana, but allow the selling of it in specified places called “coffeeshops”. This lack of full legality has created a very unique and strange market for the weed sellers of the Netherlands. Marketing is only applicable to the coffeeshop owners, and any branding would immediately reveal who the source of the cannabis was, and therefore cause them to run into legal troubles. 

With these laws in place, it hasn’t allowed the Netherlands cannabis industry to truly flourish like its American and Canadian counterparts has. The interesting part of that is how the lack and then explosion of opportunities in the American market has produced such high-end product packaging for a product that was once considered shady, criminal, and degenerate. 

Within this new industry, cannabis companies are now starting to push innovation in the packaging industry itself as well. While the use of cannabis is now fully legal in some states, there are still regulations being put into place everywhere on how marijuana can be packaged. For example, in California, their laws are so extensive that they require the seller to have their products in childproof packaging. 

This seemingly simple requirement has caused ripples of innovation within the packaging world and can be seen by the numerous amounts of solutions created by those tasked with designing all of these new concepts. Childproof packaging has been around for many years with many different products, but there was never much innovation because the most commonly used solution was almost always to vacuum seal the product thus enclosing it completely. The consumers of cannabis are also part of a generation that is aware of their environmental impact and demand a better solution. This has forced the cannabis industry to task their designers with creating more environmentally-friendly solutions.

We are now seeing carton board packages that fully meet California’s strict regulations. One notable example of this is from the design agency Pavement, on their project for Woah Candy Co.’s edibles. They managed to create a beautiful package with a strong brand identity, while also implementing a simple yet effective way to child-proof the package. 

The two cutouts from the sleeve are for pop tabs in the plastic tray. Unless pressing on both tabs at the same time, the cannabis-infused chocolates are inaccessible. Innovations in structural packaging like this could not only be implemented in the cannabis world but can be translated into other products that currently use unsustainable methods to produce child-safe packaging. 

Aside from structural innovation, many brands are pushing themselves to create a new identity for their products which were once seen as shady and only for stoners. If you did not know there was THC in some of these products, you would never be able to guess from their branding. 

So, what does this say about the Dutch cannabis market? While the Netherlands has always been what most people think of as the weed capital of the world, most of the regulations set into place have snuffed out any possibilities for people to innovate and create sleek designs. The only route to do so currently lies within the realm of CBD. Because the laws surrounding CBD are laxer, some products have been able to develop brands for themselves, and thus expand market competition. 

A great example of pushing branding to its max, even in a market so strictly regulated by the government, is Procare CBD oils. The branding chosen is sleek, modern, and transparent. While the CBD market in the Netherlands is growing, there are still legal hangups hindering the industry from developing in the same ways that the American market has. What I hope to see in the next few years, is the Netherlands jumping on board with total legalisation, and thus creating a new market for products and innovation in packaging.