The genesis behind the phrase ‘420’ is greatly debated, but some rumors speculate it all started in 1971.

A small group of high school friends started using this secret code as a signal to meet up after school and smoke marijuana while searching for an elusive plot of growing cannabis plants. Now on the 50th anniversary of ‘420’, the phrase has spawned an unofficial holiday that’s celebrated worldwide and become synonymous with cannabis culture.

So what’s really changed in the last 50 years for marijuana? 

Pretty much everything.

Around the time the phrase ‘420’ was being invented, support for legalization of marijuana was around a measly 12%. By the end of 2020, that approval catapulted to a new high of 68%

Sales in the cannabis industry currently exceed tens of billions of dollars. New cannabis infused products are finding their way onto retail shelves every day in legalized states.

However, these sales are being met with heavy label compliance regulations and requirements that, while overwhelming and confusing, are absolutely essential for cannabis growers and distributors to maintain sales.

Cannabis Regulations

Currently, cannabis has not been ruled legal in all 50 states, whether for recreational use, medical use, or both. As of April 2021, 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis in some way.

States where cannabis is legal determine their own rules and regulations when it comes to labeling cannabis products for consumers. These laws are regularly revised and updated, so staying compliant is extremely important.

This also makes labeling cannabis products much more complex. 

Dispensaries selling products need a valid license and manufacturers must be in regulatory compliance with federal and state laws or else they can face heavy penalties. Some of these include:

  • Large fines
  • Recalls on products 
  • Revocation of licensing or certification
  • Closure of business

Because it is used in the aid of medical treatment, each state has a list of approved conditions cannabis is prescribed to help. Some of these include but are not limited to:

  • Chronic pain
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • ALS
  • PTSD
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s Disease

Labeling Requirements

When it comes to the requirements for cannabis labels, things can get a little complex. Not every state has legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, and each state has their own unique label laws regarding the qualifications for cannabis products in order to stay compliant.

Applications for cannabis labels include many different forms of product, such as:

  • Flowers & buds
  • Pre-rolls & cones
  • Oils & tinctures
  • Edibles
  • Concentrates
  • Extracts
  • Vaporizers
  • Topicals

Cannabis labels are legally required to be printed with detailed content about the product being sold. The content on these labels has a similar look to the nutritional fact labels found on packaged foods and drinks. Some common requirements on regulated cannabis labels include:

  • Specific font sizes 
  • Manufacturer information
  • Active ingredients
  • Testing information
  • Important dates

When labeling cannabis products, there are 2 sections to be aware of: primary panels and information panels. Panels are sections of the label that are displayed, presented, or shown on the product. Each panel has their own purpose, whether it’s for information or branding.

Let’s take a closer look at the details involved with each label panel.

Primary Panel

A small, colorful label is applied to a tincture bottle for cannabis-infused products

Information Panel

The label on the back of a cannabis product shows the information about the product

Primary Panel

The primary panel, sometimes called the “brand” label or “prime” label, is located on the front of the package.

This label is customer facing, so it is the first image a potential buyer sees when looking at the products displayed on a retail shelf. The information on these labels varies by state but some general information is shared.

Common Information

  • Branding

  • Name of the product

  • Net weight or volume

  • Required universal symbols or markings

  • Batch tracking ID numbers

  • Cannabinoid content

Information Panel

The information panel, also known as a secondary panel, can be found on the back or sides of the package.

It contains more detailed information to educate the consumer about the product. Again, the label information requirements vary by state but some common requirements can be found on secondary panels.

Secondary panels may contain factors like testing information, such as if the cannabis product has come into contact with any pesticides or insecticides, and other cannabinoids, terpenes, or flavonoids information.

QR codes can also be placed on this part of the label, allowing customers to scan the code for full details of the product, including lab testing information, and updated cannabinoid and terpene profiles. 

Common Information

  • Plant strain name & type

  • Company name & contact information

  • The indica/sativa classification

  • Unique serial number

  • Specific dates (expiration/tested/cultivated)

  • Lab information

  • Net weight or volume statement

  • Percentages of THC, THCA, CBD, CBN , etc.


Cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I Controlled Substance so most states require specific warning instructions on cannabis products. Some common cannabis warning labels include phrases specifying the product is or has the following:

  • Health risks
  • For medical use only
  • Habit forming
  • Age restrictions 
  • Ability impairments
  • Resale and transfer restrictions
  • Not for children or animals
  • Not for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding

Universal Symbol for Cannabis in Oregon.

Packaging Designs & Requirements

A package for a cannabis product shows the important information required

Packaging for cannabis infused products can also be a tricky process to maneuver. Because, like cannabis labels, packaging requirements are strict and vary depending on the state. Some designs can skip labels all together and print the required information right on the package, making it just as important for these applications to follow proper guidelines. 

Compliance should always be first and foremost when it comes to packaging solutions.

Since regulations continuously change, packaging must accommodate new adjustments, no matter how small, in order to remain compliant. This can be changes to wording, font sizes, and more. Some states specifically require packaging to be transparent and/or resealable. Non-compliance with local regulations can cause stores to refuse questionable products. 

Other factors that should be heavily considered when choosing packaging are branding, product preservation, and safety.


Establishing a company brand requires a lot of research and development. It is important to understand your target markets’ wants and needs, while effectively showing your potential customers why you are a company they should care about and buy from.

Your company’s brand is the first impression you make. Therefore understanding who you’re selling to, what they’re buying, and what their expectations are will go a long way in helping you build a lucrative brand. This is no different with cannabis products. 

Various regulations for cannabis products require a litany of guidelines and instructions, so you’ll need to make sure there is a balance of information and design. Visuals like logos, taglines, brand colors and graphics are branding elements that not only elevate your product’s perception but create excitement in customers. 

Strong packaging for your cannabis product reassures customers of its high quality while building trust and loyalty for your brand. It also aids in the experience you want to promote to your customers. Your brand should have an identity that makes your business memorable.

Product Packaging

The branding of your cannabis product goes hand in hand with the packaging it’s sold in. Branding makes your product more appealing to customers but packaging adds practicality while displaying your product. It should ensure a long shelf life and a means of safely opening and resealing your product after use.  

“Cannabis brands seek packaging that keeps their product fresh, offers ample space for branding and labeling, and meets requirements for child resistance and safety,” says Alyse Thompson, managing editor of Cannabis Products Magazine

Businesses should consider which container shapes, materials, and closings are best suited for the form of cannabis being sold. This is because different products require different demands from packaging. Thompson explains which package types are popular among cannabis businesses nowadays.

Currently,” she continues, “many brands use glass jars, plastic bottles and tubes, and metal tins to store product, but flexible film pouches are becoming more prevalent, thanks to their protective barrier and cost effectiveness.”

Flexible film pouches offer many benefits for packaging cannabis, particularly flowers and buds and a variety of edibles. They are light, help maintain freshness for long periods of time, and certain varieties offer customers the option of resealing the package for later use. Film pouches also provide ample surface area for labeling, allowing businesses to showcase their brand while still providing enough space to include regulated information.


Product preservation is an extremely important factor when packaging cannabis products. Throughout the entire cultivation process, as plants are trimmed, dried, cured, and extracted, they begin deteriorating. This deterioration can affect the overall weight and potency of the product, both important pieces of information that are included on the package. 

Proper storage for travel conditions is also a factor to consider when choosing packaging. Temperature changes throughout the transportation process can affect the quality of the product, which may spoil or become damaged if packaging is not designed to account for ranges of temperatures, humidity, and moisture. This can end up costing a business in the long run.


Safety is one of the most important features when dealing with legal cannabis products, and there are many factors to consider and comply with.

For most states where cannabis products are legalized, you must be 21 years or older to purchase. Packaging should not cause reasonable confusion for customers as to whether the product they are purchasing contains anything other than cannabis.

Cannabis product packaging should not be made to look appealing to children in any way. This includes color and imagery, such as cartoon characters or mascots, language that insinuates the product is meant for a younger demographic, or any imitations of products typically marketed to children, such as candy or snacks.

Some states also require packaging to be childproof. This means it needs to be constructed in a way that would make it significantly difficult for young children to open, ensuring the product is safe and will not be accidentally ingested.

Other Factors to Consider

If you are a business looking to package and label your own cannabis products, there are several factors you will want to keep in mind that go hand-in-hand with the package design and labels. 


Labels for cannabis products and packaging should be durable enough to withstand handling through the supply chain process. Cannabis labels need to be resistant to elements like:

  • Fading
  • Peeling
  • Temperature changes
  • Moisture
  • Oil
  • Possible chemical exposure

These labels should have a strong adhesive as well, making it difficult to remove them in order to prevent tampering and counterfeiting.


While it is essential to stay compliant with labeling laws and regulations, the layout of your cannabis product is an important aspect to keep in mind. You want the necessary information to be legible so the messaging is clear and concise to customers. 

However, the layout should still be aesthetically pleasing to customers. A good label or design can keep your product compliant while standing out against other products on the retail shelf.


Legal frameworks for cannabis products are constantly changing at local, state, and federal levels, and when they do, labels and packaging must also change in order to stay compliant. It can be helpful for businesses to keep this in mind and make sure cannabis label and package designs are flexible in order to adapt. New or additional information may need to be added or adjusted at a future date.

One solution for better flexibility is printing labels in-house. This allows businesses to have more control over changing their designs when or if they are required to in order to be compliant with new regulations. This ensures changes can be made quickly and efficiently without losing money on already purchased pre-printed labels or lost time while new labels are ordered from a supplier.

Printers That Can Help

If you’re interested in printing your own labels in-house, you will want a printer capable of producing high-quality labels while easily accommodating quick changes to text and designs should regulations or requirements change. 

An inkjet printer is a great option for printing your own cannabis product labels.

Inkjet printers are capable of creating high-resolution, customizable designs with splashes of vibrant colors capable of engaging customers while encompassing your brand. They can print high volumes of labels in differing sizes and shapes to accommodate different packaging types, sizes, and materials.

Inkjet labels include finishes like gloss and matte to enhance the overall look of your label while adding an extra layer of protection. 


As a larger marketplace for cannabis products seems promising, more and more cannabis products are making their way to the retail floor. Until there is a national standard for the regulations and requirements of cannabis products, businesses will want to make sure they stay up to date so their goods remain compliant and available for consumers.

*Disclaimer: The material contained in this article is meant to be used for general informational purposes only. It is by no means an authoritative source on current cannabis legislation nor is it intended to constitute legal advice. We advise readers to check with their state regulations for the most current information regarding updates and revisions to cannabis laws and requirements as they are subject to frequent change. Smith Corona will not be held responsible or liable for any and all actions taken as a result of the content listed above.