Medical cannabis label.

Medical Cannabis Labels vs. Recreational Marijuana Labels

The cannabis business is confusing. While most products are easy to sell nationally, each state has different laws handling what cannabis products can be sold, where they’re sold, and how they’re marketed. As a cannabis provider, how do you make labels that fit legal requirements while following best practices to inform consumers about what they’re buying?

What Exactly Is the Difference Between Recreational and Medical Cannabis?

Recreational cannabis is for fun, and medical cannabis treats illnesses, right? Not exactly. Because cannabis products are handled differently by state, it’s often hard to delineate between the two.

At a federal level, only cannabidiol has been approved for medical use and medicinal purposes. This cannabinoid is used to treat seizures in patients with Dravet or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Other therapeutic use generally falls under expanded access, which is commonly called “compassionate use.” These drugs are approved for use when traditional therapies aren’t available.

How that is interpreted varies in the cannabis laws from state to state. In some states, the patient may need to be diagnosed with a specific illness, like cancer or epilepsy, to be allowed to buy medical cannabis. In others, there is no requirement for the use of medical marijuana. A medical marijuana license in these states acts as a permit for both medical and recreational use. To add to this confusion, doctors can’t prescribe medicinal cannabis because it’s not an approved medication. Instead, they can recommend it for its medical benefits as part of a care plan. That means the patient doesn’t have to buy a specific product or dosage to treat their condition.

In states with recreational cannabis, many people who use it therapeutically don’t bother with a medical marijuana license or don’t always buy medical marijuana. It’s simply more convenient to get cannabis from a recreational dispensary. However, there are still benefits to going the medical route. For example, recreational use is legal in Colorado for non-minors 21 years of age or older, but medical use is legal starting at age 18. State tax is 2.9% for medical cannabis and 15% for recreational cannabis, saving medical users a substantial amount of money for long-term treatment.

What does this mean from a producer’s standpoint? You may end up selling the same high-quality product at both medical and recreational dispensaries, using two different label designs to meet state regulations. Medical cannabis labeling follows the same governing rules as dietary supplements. Because of this, you can’t make any medical claims about your products, further blurring the two categories together.

Best Practices: Differentiating Between Medical and Recreational Products

State regulations can be vague about cannabis packaging requirements, aside from requiring certain public health warnings. To fill this gap, the cannabis industry has developed standard practices for identifying and differentiating between products while informing consumers.

Above all else, packaging should not appeal to children or resemble any non-cannabis product. Making edible packaging that mimics snack foods risks a child consuming the product because they don’t understand it’s a drug. Of course, this happens to adults, too. While you wouldn’t think twice about eating a regular candy bar, eating an edible candy bar can mean consuming cannabinoids. California state law actually bans the word “candy” on products containing cannabis.

There are two trends in cannabis package design to differentiate between medical and recreational products. Medical products tend to use very basic packaging with white backgrounds and simple graphics. A green cross is a common motif for these products. Recreational products tend to use black and earth tones to help differentiate them from tobacco products and snack foods. A marijuana leaf should be prominent on recreational products, but some states require it on all cannabis products.

There are key pieces of information that should be included on the label — and are usually required by law:

  1. The strain of cannabis used to make the product, whether it’s Indica, Sativa, or a hybrid.
  2. All active ingredients, including major cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD.
  3. The activation time, whether it’s a few seconds for inhaled products or a couple of hours for consumed products.
  4. Warning labels that clearly state the product contains cannabis, as well as an advisory about the use of cannabis while operating machinery. The symbols and language used varies depending on state regulations. Most states require some form of the universal symbol for cannabis on these products.

The Cannabis Alliance also recommends these practices for labeling cannabis products:

  • The label should list the amount of active ingredients in milligrams, not dosages. This makes it easier for users to compare different products since individual dosages vary widely.
  • Labeling should include nutritional and allergy information. In most states, you can follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules for labeling dietary products.
  • Labels for edibles should include the method of infusion or extraction used to make the product. Oils, butter, and distillates are the most common infusion methods. Popular extraction methods include CO2, alcohol, butane, and propane.

There’s one more factor to consider: quality. Without a single government body regulating cannabis, consumers rely on independent lab testing to judge the quality of cannabis products. Consider adding a website URL or a QR code that directs buyers to independent test results on information like THC content and the use of pesticides on cannabis plants.

How Do I Label Products With So Many Variations?

Our print-and-apply labeling systems use a print engine to add information without slowing down the application. The controller integrates with your operating technology system and can generate text and barcodes. Using this system, you can make a stock label design, modify it to meet market regulations and labeling requirements, or add information for different batches and products.

If you’re just starting out in the cannabis market, you may not need a large, high-speed system. However, you can still speed up production affordably by using our semi-automatic tabletop labeler. This device is hand-loaded, using a star wheel to move containers to the applicator. It’s perfect for pill bottles and vials — ideal for tinctures, concentrates, topical creams, capsules, and other small products.

Take the Headaches Out of Product Labeling

While we can’t make label regulations easier, CTM Labeling Systems can help you iron out labeling issues in your production line. Contact us and we’ll put you in contact with a local distributor. They’ll work with you to set up labeling stations that meet the demands of your facility and your customers.