What is child-resistant packaging?
In the past decade, cannabis has become legal for recreational use across large areas of North America.
This has led to an exciting and fast-growing new market for cannabis brands selling flower, edibles, concentrates, pre-rolls, and more. However, as an increasing number of states have passed legislation, there has been a sharp increase in cases of children ingesting cannabis products – typically edible gummies or lollipops that not only look like candy, but come in bright, cartoonish packaging.
Cases have been high enough that in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use, the Children’s Hospital has published a guide to “Acute Marijuana Intoxication” for parents. This includes advice that symptoms are more severe in small children, and that ingesting edibles often requires hospitalization.
The takeaway? If you’re a cannabis brand working in North America, child-resistance should be a top priority for your packaging. Depending on where your company is based, the specific regulations will vary. But the one golden rule across Canada and the United States is that a cannabis container can’t easily be opened by a child under five – and that official testing must prove this.
To help you learn about child-resistant packaging and what your local regulations might be, we’ve prepared an article with some general guidance. Please note: specific legal advice on cannabis packaging compliance should be sought from qualified entities in your local region.
The history of child-resistant packaging in the US
In the United States, child-resistant packaging came into effect following the 1970 Poison Prevention Packaging Act. This required the packaging for any household items that could be poisonous to children (e.g. prescription drugs or cleaning products) to be “significantly difficult” for children under five to open.
Under this legislation, packaging must be tested by a group of young children at an official facility. If the packaging passes, it will receive a certification of child-resistant.
In 2013, when cannabis was legalized in Colorado, exit bags were made a requirement of cannabis dispensaries. In other words, all customers had to leave the store with their cannabis product contained in a sealed child-proof bag. This was a good solution to begin with, but a serious issue quickly became apparent: once the customer got home, they could remove the product from the child-resistant bag, thus making it accessible once again.
Understandably, this led to changes in legislation to ensure that all cannabis products – whether medical or recreational – had to come with some form of primary packaging that was child-resistant. In the years following we saw a new demand for child-resistant pack styles with locking mechanisms that could be customized to suit a variety of cannabis products.
Testing according to the Poison Prevention Packaging Act
The PPPA is often cited by state regulations, so it can be a good idea to familiarize yourself with how testing is defined by this act. To “pass the test”, a pack should be deemed child-resistant, but suitable for use by most adults.
The rules for organizing and carrying out the testing process are detailed and complex, but in the simplest terms the test involves the following:
- A group of children aged between three and five are handed packages and asked to open them
- They are given five minutes – during this time they can move around and bang or pry the package to open it
- After five minutes have passed the adult demonstrator will open the package in front of the children to show them how it can be opened
- A second round will begin, with the children given another five minutes – during this time the children are told they can use their teeth to open the pack
According to the PPPA, a pack can be certified as child-resistant if it cannot be opened by at least 85% of children before the demonstration, and at least 80% after the demonstration. At the same time, it must be accessible by 90% of senior adults.
Child-proof packaging regulations in the US
At the time of writing, cannabis is legal for recreational use in the following states:
- New Jerse
- New York
Cannabis is set to shortly become legal for recreational use in New Mexico and Virginia.
It’s also legal in certain US territories like Guam, and is legal for medical use in a large number of states, including Florida and Hawaii.
As expected, every state has its own specific laws regarding cannabis packaging, which is why it’s vital for cannabis brands to research the rules and get legal advice in their local region. In general terms, however, states will usually stipulate the following kinds of rules:
- Packaging for cannabis and cannabis products must be designed in a way that is significantly difficult for children under five to open (but not difficult for adults to use).
- Cannabis products cannot be packaged in a way that appeals to children i.e. it shouldn’t look like candy, or have labeling that uses bright colors or cartoon characters.
- If a cannabis pack is designed for multiple uses, it must be resealable and must remain child-resistant for all future uses.
- A cannabis pack should bear the words “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN”.
Many states will specify the Poison Prevention Packaging Act in their wording, and will require packs to have been tested according to these rules.
Child-proof packaging regulations in Canada
In Canada, the regulations are very similar. Cannabis packaging must be child-resistant as set out by the Food and Drugs Regulations, which means that a child-resistant package must have been tested by a group of children and must meet the following criteria:
- Cannot be opened by at least 85% of children prior to a demonstration
- Cannot be opened by at least 80% of children after a demonstration
Beyond the mechanics of the pack, cannabis packs sold in Canada must not be designed in a way that will appeal to children. This means that branding and styling must be very limited, and must adhere to certain strict rules, including (but not limited to) the following:
- No fluorescent or metallic colors
- No embossing
- No heat-activated ink
- No images
All cannabis packs in Canada must also bear the words “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN” in both English and French.
Types of child-resistant packaging
Child-resistant packaging technology has improved rapidly in recent years, and there are now many different approaches for making child-resistant containers.
The standard approach is to create a locking mechanism that can only be engaged by a combination of movements which require the strength, dexterity or hand size of an adult. Young children usually aren’t able to perform two actions at the same time, or are unable to apply equal pressure to two different areas of a pack.
The traditional child-resistant pack style is a pill bottle with a push-and-turn lid. This requires the user to push down on the lid while turning it to release the lock – as most parents know, this type of movement is not usually possible by a young child. Modern pack styles may incorporate different styles of locking mechanism that work in a similar way e.g. they release under pressure.
The exact design of a pack doesn’t necessarily matter. What should be a priority is that, in a testing environment, the pack proves itself to be resistant to young children.
Remember, the testing will typically allow for banging, prying and even biting to open a pack, so it must be ready to put up a fight! Having said that, it’s also important that brands use pack formats that remain accessible for adults – including the elderly, and anyone with a physical disability.
Hitting that sweet spot can be tricky, which is why child-resistant packaging manufacturers in the US are currently working hard to develop their own pack formats.
Examples of child-resistant form-factors
Locking slider boxes
A locking slider box tends to have a fairly simple design: a sleeve with a sliding tray and removable insert. The locking element usually involves a push mechanism engaged with one hand, while the other hand pulls out the tray. This sort of container is particularly well suited to pre-rolls and vape cartridges.
Tins can be child-resistant in a couple of different ways. A standard circular tin may have a push and turn lid. A rectangular tin with a hinged lid may have locking mechanisms on the front which may need to be pushed in. For cannabis brands with an eco-friendly angle, tins have the added benefit that they’re recyclable.
Tube form-factors can be incredibly versatile for cannabis products, used to store everything from flower and edibles, to pre-rolls, lotions and concentrate. Common locking mechanisms in a tube include a push-and-turn lid and hidden buttons that release under pressure.
A simple glass or plastic jar with a push-and-turn lid is a classic storage solution for a variety of cannabis products.
Bags are a great option for cannabis brands, because they can be manufactured to suit single-use or multi-use products. Single-use bags may be fully sealed, requiring scissors (or adult hands) to open. Multi-use bags may come with a child-resistant zipper or another form of resealable closure.
Other cannabis packaging considerations
There are a long list of rules and regulations that cannabis packs need to adhere to in North America. Child-proof features aside, brands selling cannabis products will also need to think about the following kinds of issues.
Certain regions, including California, require cannabis packaging to have tamper-evident features. This means that the pack has some kind of seal which will be visibly destroyed as soon as the pack is opened. It’s a good way of ensuring that your product will reach the end user without anybody opening the pack along the way.
The list of requirements for your cannabis labelling is likely to be long and complex. Even if the product is small, you will need to create space to include all required information – this means that you may need to incorporate a tag or peel-back label.
Cannabis labels will usually need to include the following:
- A cannabis warning symbol
- Product identity (e.g. vape cartridge or lotion)
- THC and CBD content/strength
- List of ingredients
- Recommended storage conditions
- Health warnings
- Quantity of items (e.g. number of capsules or gummies)
This is not an exhaustive list, so make sure that you check the requirements for your local region before you finalize your label style.
With so many other things to consider, it might be easy to forget about branding – but this is vital for cannabis brands looking to stand out in an increasingly competitive market. Take the time to work out your color scheme, logo, font style and tone of voice so that your brand has a clear and distinctive presence in the market from day one.
In some regions, including Canada, branding will be made far more difficult due to the restrictive rules around what is allowed on a cannabis label. Using peel-back labels or tags will help you to make the most of the space on your pack.
Discover your child-safe packaging solution with GPA
Here at GPA, we’ve spent years honing our skills in packaging and developing a detailed understanding of different cannabis legislation across North America. We understand that the varied and ever-changing requirements can be overwhelming to brand owners – particularly those who are just starting out. That’s why we’re here to help.
Our packaging form-factors have been designed and developed specifically to meet the rigorous demands of North American regulations, ensuring that your cannabis pack will always be compliant. All our pack styles are certified as child-resistant, and are designed to be customized, ensuring that the finished product meets your precise requirements.
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In addition to creating packs that are 100% fit-for-purpose and legally compliant, the GPA team also works hard to deliver packaging that helps a cannabis brand make an impact on the market. Partner with us and we’ll deliver packaging that stands out from the crowd and turns heads in the retail space.
For GPA, sustainability is also a big priority. We’ve recently developed a new recyclable packaging format, the BN-4, which can be manufactured at our facilities in California and Massachusetts. This pack style is a child-resistant locking slider box made from FSC-certified paper stock, and we’re proud to say that it’s 100% recyclable.
Find out more by requesting a BN-4 sample today!
Phone: (818) 237-9771 Ext. 251