In the world of legal cannabis, exit packaging is a necessary evil. Despite a recent study in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, that shows teen cannabis use in states with legal markets is declining, grandma’s secret stash of gummies may remain rather appealing to an unsuspecting toddler who stumbles upon them.

Of course, other considerations factor into selecting the best exit packaging for your dispensary besides “child-proofing,” decisions that affect both the short-term and long-term costs associated with rampant plastic production or, simply, reliability. Here are four things to consider when searching for exit packaging options:

Farma, a dispensary in Portland, Ore., uses resealable bags, as specified by Oregon’s compliant-packaging laws.
Photo: © Michael McGuire | Farma

1. Does the packaging company understand your market’s regulations? The first step in selecting the right packaging for your needs is to ensure compliance.

For example, in Oregon, the law defines compliant packaging as “a container or exit package that is resealable and continually child-resistant as certified by a qualified third-party child-resistant package testing firm.” While most packaging companies aim to provide product to as many markets as possible, laws vary by state, and it is important to check with your local governing body to determine what types of closures are acceptable.

2. Will the closure work for everyone? There are plenty of closure types that will keep children from accessing product, but it’s also important to consider the people who may struggle with those same protections because of symptomatic concerns, such as arthritis.

Push-and-twist models that require two hands (common in pharmaceuticals) can be tricky, especially when sourced cheaply. Pop-tops can be easier for customers and staff, as they also make for faster prep behind the counter and prevent runaway lids. Pop-tops’ material, however, is more pliable and can be difficult to replicate using recycled sources or bioplastics, according to Justise Grider-Brown, operations manager at P3, a Portland, Ore., distribution company.

3. Is the packaging made from sustainable materials? Legalization certainly opens up access to safer products, but the strict regulations governing sales leave in their wake a tremendous amount of waste that those children we’re supposed to be protecting will have to clean up one day.

To get ahead of that problem, certain packaging manufacturers now turn to bioplastics as the primary material for their exit bags, in some cases, using renewable, plant-based materials. If this is a priority for your company, explore your options fully.

4. Does the packaging’s cost make sense? China supplies cheap packaging options for dispensaries in the U.S. But according to Farma’s Michael McGuire, reliable availability can be an issue—especially around Chinese New Year celebrations when factories close for up to a month.

While U.S.-made and/or sustainable packaging may have a less competitive price tag up front, the long-term reward may be worth it. And, if your budget isn’t quite ready for biodegradable plant-based plastics, consider implementing an incentive program for customers who return or reuse packaging. It’s a strategy that can help you win repeat business and set an ethical standard for the entire cannabis industry.

Andrea Sparr-Jaswa is the director of education and outreach at Farma in Portland, Ore., where she is responsible for aggregating and analyzing customer-facing data.