Wanted: Cannabis-specific machinery. A look at challenges in the cannabis packaging sector.

The first step for innovation in cannabis packaging begins with the machine.

With cannabis still such a new industry, there is much room for design innovation and development from cannabis brands and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), according to the report “Cannabis Market Update: Unique Challenges for THC and CBD Products.” Produced by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, the report indicates that, for the most part, cannabis producers have been able to get away with using equipment from similar industries. Eventually, however, OEMs will need to approach cannabis as a unique industry with its own set of operational requirements and goals.

More than anything else, cannabis packagers are looking for flexible and adaptable machines due to the rapidly evolving and expanding nature of cannabis packaging. Packagers need machines capable of handling both rigid and flexible packaging in various formats and material types. For example, dried flower is typically packaged into a plastic jar with a child-resistant lid, be it screw-top or push-top. However, the style and shape of these containers vary from state to state and often from producer to producer. With the current momentum in Washington, DC, trending towards the eventual removal of cannabis entirely from the Controlled Substances Act, producers may soon be able to standardize across states. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made legalization a priority in the summer, announcing on July 14 that ending the federal ban on marijuana was a top priority.

“I am the first majority leader to say it’s time to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, and as majority leader, I’m going to push this issue forward and make it a priority for the Senate,” Schumer said. He introduced a draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act with co-sponsors Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) that would lift the 84-year federal ban on cannabis and allow compliant cannabis businesses access to financial services such as bank accounts and loans.

Until then, cannabis companies are tight on capital and must carefully weigh the benefits and returns of purchasing a packaging machine. For cannabis producers, the lack of ready-made solutions also presents a hurdle when trying to automate. Cannabis producers are typically less familiar with automation applications in general, especially those needed for processes in the cannabis industry that haven’t yet identified a machine or automation solution. This means that cannabis companies rely heavily on OEMs for suggestions and advice when automating their processes.

OEMs will need to work with cannabis companies to alter existing processes and innovate new machine and automation formulations specifically suited to the tasks required by the cannabis industry. New machine designs will need to be both flexible and adaptable, especially when it comes to the size and cost of the machine. Cannabis processors range from small outfits with little capital and room to spare to large production operations capable of investing in multiple machines at one time. OEMs will need to be aware of this range and work with cannabis companies to understand their needs and means and tailor machines to meet specifications.

New technologies, solutions, and education addressing the changing landscape of cannabis packaging will be on display PACK EXPO East (March 21-23, 2022; Pennsylvania Convention Center). PMMI heads east for this next event in the PACK EXPO portfolio of trade shows, with registration now officially open. Now in its fifth edition, the three-day event returns to Philadelphia after a record-breaking PACK EXPO East 2020 that featured 7,100-plus attendees and its largest show floor to date. For more information, visit packexpoeast.com, and for all show-related information, visit packexpo.com.

Sean Riley is senior director, media and industry communications, for PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.