2020 Cannabis packaging trends: A brief look from PMMI

Published on: 

PMMI, the association for packaging and processing technologies, discusses cannabis packaging trends ahead of PACK EXPO East 2020.

There has never been more of a demand for packaging solutions for the fragmented and divisive cannabis market. The market can be broken into two major components: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-based products promising some kind of buzz, and non-THC products based on extracted cannabidiol (CBD) processed from hemp.



THC remains controversial, despite a growing number of states allowing both medicinal and recreational cannabis. Cannabis-infused beverages and foods remain illegal from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) viewpoint-for now-but the agency admits it cannot police the flood of new companies and brands. FDA can only pay attention when problems rise to the surface. The recent vaping crisis is a perfect example of this.

If a THC cannabis product relates to food, packaging will likely draw from popular food categories like carbonated beverages, baked goods, confectionery, etc. Many predict beer, wine, and spirits will get involved with low-dose cannabis social drinks due to the recent “mindful drinking” movement that has resulted in declining beer sales.

Flower for smoking can be packaged individually, with pre-rolled joints in cheap, colorful plastic tubes from China and with larger amounts housed in beautiful glass jars and modified atmosphere metal cans. Edibles often come wrapped individually in a resealable flexible pouch. Some of these boast fantastic digital graphics.

THC products still involve numerous packaging challenges. With products such as CBD oil, it is difficult to administer the exact unit of dosage when using tools such as an eyedropper. Child-resistant reclosable-packaging options can also be difficult to find, prohibitively expensive, or don’t align with sustainability goals.

Much of the THC market activity moving forward-and thus, packaging developments-will stem from the recreational cannabis market, and not the medical cannabis market. Currently, the U.S. government’s lack of new applications for medicinal research on cannabis for three years has crippled the market. The recreational market tends to have negative effects on an established medical market, with the recreational market now selling up to 15 times the quantities sold in the medical market. Recreationally, patients can experiment with a variety of different products, strains, delivery systems, etc., and don’t need to take the extra step of seeking a doctor’s recommendation.



CBD, often misunderstood, comes in a variety of sophisticated, branded packaging, taking cues from the beauty, health, and food markets. Celebrity endorsements abound, especially from sports professionals who use CBD for pain relief. Glass vials with droppers are popular, often requiring outer cartons, as are jars, bottles, pumps, tubes, and test tubes.

Like vitamin and nutritional supplements, CBD oil can make broad claims about overall health but must be careful not to make specific claims about outcomes. Recent announcements from major retailers who will carry CBD products really put CBD and CBD education in the spotlight. Consumers young and old uncertain of the origins or reliability of products sold on the web will see lotions, cosmetics, or oils in the same store where they get their prescriptions filled.



Some products combine the application benefits of CBD lotion or oil but come with THC in the formula for the “entourage effect,” which proposes that the parts of the plant work better in synergy rather than when isolated. These products may involve the same kind of packaging, but labeling is critical. Labels can be utilized to educate consumers about the contents and usage of a product.


Production Moving Forward

The uncertain regulatory landscape for cannabis in each state has thwarted large operations from scaling up in multiple states. But it is clear now that automation will be needed for production-and packaging-to meet the supply needs of a major retailer.

The good news is that general trends in nutrition, driven by both millennials and boomers, are seeing people taking their health into their own hands with diet, exercise, and mindfulness. This bodes well for the cannabis market.

With several states in the Northeast (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, New Jersey, and New York) offering at least legal medicinal marijuana, those looking to find the right packaging technology for the growing cannabis market are certain to find solutions at PACK EXPO East 2020, taking place March 3-5, 2020, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, produced by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. With over 100,000 net square feet of exhibit space, this three-day event will bring together 7,000 attendees, with 400 companies showcasing new technologies. For more information and to register for PACK EXPO East 2020, go to

Jorge Izquierdo is vice president of market development for PMMI, The Association of Packaging and Processing Technologies.