New Cannabis States Mean More Confusion for Cannabis Businesses

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Botanipack LLC is an Arizona company helping dispensary owners comply with state specific packaging solutions.

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We make sure our customers are working within their state laws.

With recreational cannabis now on the way in two new states and Washington, D.C., cannabis businesses across the nation are bracing for an even more splintered and confusing array of laws and rules.

Once Oregon, Alaska and the nation’s capitol get up to speed, the U.S. will have 26 individual sets of state marijuana laws. And those laws are evolving quickly, making things difficult for dispensaries, their suppliers and patients. What’s legal in one state is illegal in another, and what’s legal today might not be tomorrow.

The rapidly evolving patchwork of rules is getting more confusing, not less, said Ryan Bishop of Botanipack Dispensary Solutions, a Tempe, Ariz. company that provides cannabis packaging other non-cannabis supplies for dispensaries and smoke shops nationwide.

“As more states come onboard, it gets harder and harder to keep up with the rules, but we make sure our customers are working within their state laws,” Bishop said.

Colorado rules, for example, require marijuana packaging to be “significantly difficult” for children under 5 to open, while not being difficult for normal adults. It’s a federal child-resistance guideline adopted from other industries. Washington has similar rules, as does Oregon (for medical marijuana), but in Arizona and California, such packaging is not required.

Because laws differ from state to state, Botanipack has to stock a multitude of packaging, including child-resistant, heat-seal bags with warning labels specific to each of the two dozen states where cannabis is legal. Some states require opaque packaging, some don’t.

And shifting regulatory sands within the states make things even more difficult, because what’s legal today might not be legal tomorrow. In June, after reports that some people in Colorado had eaten more cannabis than they bargained for and a few children got ahold of marijuana infused edibles, Washington instituted emergency rules to label edibles with dosages and ban cartoons and other images that attract children.

Starting in February, Colorado rules announced in September will require those things. The rules in Oregon, which has had medical marijuana since 1998, also changed in the wake of the Colorado packaging flap, and now they will need a separate set of rules for recreational marijuana businesses.

In some states, such as Arizona, marijuana can be packaged virtually any way you choose. Last year, a bill that would have stiffened rules to require, among other things, opaque packages, failed in the state Legislature. In October, Will Humble, director of Arizona’s Department of Health Services, proposed new rules requiring dispensary agents to explain dosages to patients in lieu of packaging changes. “We plan to have the revised rules in effect by summer 2015,” Humble said.

Ultimately, dispensary and recreational cannabis shop owners are responsible for not only what they sell, but how they package and label it. A packaging mistake could bring harm to a customer or cost a dispensary owner a fine or put a license at risk, so shop owners have to stay on their toes.

“Until we have federal regulations, these state laws will dictate how cannabis business owners sell their product, so until cannabis is legal under federal law, we’ll just have to do our homework to make sure they have what they need in each state,” Bishop said.

Medical marijuana is legal in 25 states plus the District of Columbia. Recreational use is legal in Colorado and Washington and soon will be in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. Florida voters rejected a medical marijuana law. Other states planning ballot initiatives for recreational legalization in 2016 include Arizona and California.

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Stephanie Jolly
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