Managing Risk in Cannabis Packaging, Logos, Branding and More

April 17, 2023

Written by Highlyte

Content compliance for cannabis companies not only includes marketing materials like signage, social media posts and health promises in web copy but also logos, visual branding assets and especially packaging. Missing an opportunity to ensure cannabis packaging compliance, and future distribution of logos and visual collateral can add extra delays and costs many cannabis operations can ill afford.

Even worse, lax content compliance can set up a business for serious consequences down the road in the form of fines, lawsuits and limitations on multi-state expansion. Just look what a negligent attitude toward risk management did to the tobacco vape brand Juul—which now must pay $1.2 billion in fines stemming from the brand’s appeals to minors.

Assessing Risk For Cannabis Marketing Compliance

Future-proofing these essential brand elements from the outset is one of the most important ways a company can protect its ROI. Even before getting a cannabis license in hand, it’s invaluable to ensure that all future marketing and branding materials will be compliant. Every detail of a cannabis brand’s public-facing messaging is up for scrutiny by regulators, particularly when it comes to compliance metrics designed to protect minors.

Select the wrong font, colorways, or logo design, or use forbidden words in the packaging copy, and regulators might decide you’re in violation of rules like the California Department of Cannabis Control’s requirement that cannabis companies “cannot imitate packaging used for products typically marketed to children.”

Nevada’s cannabis packaging compliance requirements are more granular–the Silver State stipulates that “the text used on all labeling must be printed in at least 8-point font and may not be in italics” and that packaging cannot “contain an image of a cartoon character, mascot, action figure, balloon or toy.”

New York State prohibits marketing collateral from making health claims as well as using or displaying “colloquial references to cannabis; or depictions of cannabis, cannabis products, paraphernalia; or the imagery or action of smoking or vaping including, but not limited to, the words ‘stoner’, ‘chronic’, ‘weed’, ‘pot’, or ‘sticky buds’ unless such reference is used in the licensee’s name or logo.”

Examples like these show just how detail-oriented cannabis marketers must be in their due diligence. In addition, future-proofing marketing and branding collateral requires attention not only to the regulations in a company’s initial state of origin, but also to the requirements in other markets to which the brand might expand in the future.

Staying within the guidelines for industries overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), NDIS and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a solid best practice as well—federal prohibition might be the law of the land today, but tomorrow these agencies will oversee the cannabis sector, too. While it’s impossible to predict exactly how the United States might regulate cannabis marketing content in the future, looking to other countries’ guidelines can be a helpful predictive tool.

Canadian cannabis regulations, for example, require packaging materials to include details like the license holder’s contact information, the lot number, the recommended storage conditions, the packaging date, the expiration date, the net weight, the net volume, the number of discrete units, a cannabis possession statement, an upper-case warning statement, the product category, the intended use case, a list of ingredients, allergen information and nutrition facts, depending on the schedule class of the cannabis product in question.

Some details of Canada’s cannabis policy are unlikely to apply to potential US regulations. As a bilingual country, for instance, Canada also requires this information be available in both English and French on a white background in black san serif font of a regular weight and a size of at least 6 points. But many of the pieces of information Canada requires are not dissimilar to the requirements in legal US states. Adhering to the most conservative regulations on the book in a market where a cannabis company might one day operate, or that might set the standard for other regulatory bodies, is one way to future-proof a brand.

Cannabis Marketing and Packaging Compliance and ROI

Investing in cannabis marketing compliance early on protects a brand’s ROI. After all, in order to expand into new markets or successfully weather a big sea change like a descheduling of cannabis or federal legalization, you need to be absolutely confident that all the brand’s assets and core messaging and bylines are compliant from the get-go. ROI means not having to waste resources by changing gears or having to go back to the drawing board on an expensive, diluting re-brand.

Using tools like Highlyte from a brand’s inception through growth and expansion is one way to invest in getting a strong ROI on all marketing efforts. Protecting the time and capital you’ve poured into navigating the licensing process, the startup costs associated with a new business, hiring new team members and other operational expenditures doesn’t reflect classic THC-induced paranoia. It’s just good business sense.

There are few better ways to start a business or optimize a current one than to run assets through Highlyte and ensure there are no red flags in your state or states of operation. From a brand logo to the imagery and copy that will eventually be used on packaging to the blogs, web copy, social media posts, flyers and white papers used to promote the organization, leave no stone unturned. After all, a cannabis brand’s marketing collateral is designed specifically to be highly visible, and to get into as many hands as possible. It would be a shame for the takeaway not to be the product’s price point, quality or emotional equities, but a regulatory crackdown with stiff consequences.

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