Packaging Standards in the Beverage Market
Cannabis is entering the beverage market in states that have legalized recreational and medical cannabis. A study has identified cannabis beverages as one of the five trends for the future of the food and drink industry1. Whether it’s THC, CBD, or whole-spectrum extracts, canna-brewing has become a popular method to consume cannabis. Cannabis extracts can be infused into a variety of drinks, from coffee to sodas to liquor. They even appear in single-serving ‘shooter’ bottles like a store-bought energy drinks, or in powdered, dissolvable sugar-like packets2.
The most popular product to infuse cannabis extracts into, by far, is BEER. Foamy, delicious beer. It combines two things that people enjoy; drinking a pint, and smoking a jay. But, adding cannabis to beer is more than just a gimmick. Cannabis and hops are a natural pair because they are closely related crops and share many of the same flavor compounds (terpenes). Classified as members of the taxonomic family, humulus (hops) and cannabis are the star Cannabaceae pair. Botanically speaking, the leaves of plants in the Cannabaceae family are generally palmately lobed, meaning their veins radiate from a common point, which is what gives cannabis leaves their distinct appearance3.
Because ethanol production is a strictly regulated process, brewing requires compliance with federal, state, and local laws. That has led to problems in the budding business.In September 2016, Dad & Dudes Breweria in Aurora became the first brewery in the country to gain approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for a non-THC, CBD-infused beer4. They were going to be packaged in 12 oz. amber-colored glass bottles typical of the beer industry and sold in six-packs. However, on December 14th, the DEA clarified a standing directive regarding cannabinoid extracts that placed CBD—even the non-psychoactive, hemp-derived kind—squarely in Schedule I5. This forced the TTB to retroactively block Dad & Dude’s request.
Other states don’t allow cannabis-infusions for different reasons; because state law prohibits selling alcohol that’s been “adulterated” with any substance deemed harmful by federal regulators. Cannabis’ classification as Schedule I deems it harmful. This dashed the dreams of Massachusetts brewery Down the Road Beer Co. for launching Goopmasta Session IPA earlier this year6.
Where canna-brewing is allowed, pharmaceutical-type beverage packaging has emerged as an important safety issue for canna-brewing. To qualify, plastic and glass containers must be chemically inert, impermeable, strong and rigid. Four types of glass are being used in the industry, the most common of which is borosilicate. Plastic can be popular because of its lower weight, extreme resistance to breakage and leakage, and potential variability of packaging design7.
Manufacturers are going to be held to as high a degree of compliance as any other part of the cannabis industry. In the case of cannabis beverages, that means opaque bottles, a tamper-proof, child-resistant safety cap, and compliant labeling. It also means sterile formulation and pasteurization; California guidelines regulating the cannabis beverage market state that bottled beverages should not require refrigeration prior to consumption8. Though most products taste better once they’re cooled, this regulation helps keep consumers safe during the transportation and storage phases of product distribution.
Packaging and labeling need to be very eye-catching, thorough, and at the same time, not appeal or be accessible to minors, doubly so when there is alcohol involved. As cannabis and CBD move closer and closer to national, federal legalization, we can expect the popularity of canna-brewing to continue to rise and drive innovation in the food and beverage field.
- 21 C.F.R. § 1308.11(d)(58)
- Pareek and Khunteta. Pharmaceutical Packaging: Current Trends and Future. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 2014;6(6):480-5.