Photo by Vortex Farmacy.

This piece was co-created by Michelle Janikian and Catherine Goldberg.

The cannabis industry is growing rapidly with new brands and products popping up each day. But the only brands that will succeed in this saturated market are those with professional packaging and design.

The days of homemade labels are over, and competitive cannabis branding is already reminiscent of sleek, tech design like Apple. Considering anyone over 21 in California will have access to adult use cannabis in as little as six months, and Las Vegas just went into effect, brands are gearing up to make their products as mainstream and appealing as possible. 

In California’s existing MMJ market, we’ve already seen the first wave of branding and design.

Companies like Jane’s Brew and Kiva Confections were some of the first to optimize their packaging and create unique, upscale, reliable products.

“Now in the last two years, we are seeing a quick maturity of the cannabis industry going from personal copier labels to branded campaigns that cover everything from web to print,” explained Ophelia Chong, founder and COO StockPot Images. “We have the chance now to shape the public’s view of this new industry through design, branding and marketing [and] looking back is only going to slow down the process of acceptance in the mainstream.”

More recently, boxed and branded weed has hit the west coast.

Brands like Canndescent come in gorgeous tea box-esque packaging, complete with a sturdy glass jar of flower, rolling papers, even hemp wick, that all look and feel reliable. This high quality and “trustworthy” packaging has lent itself well to Canndescent’s main appeal: selling consistent, easy to understand experiences, like “Connect, Charge, and Cruise,” over a product (or many in one box).

“After studying the marketplace, we set out to make the category easier to use and to navigate,” explained Adrian Sedlin, CEO of Canndescent. “Having to learn a periodic table of 6,000 ominous strain names is only slightly less silly than trying to biohack your way through it…  If a consumer knows how they want to feel, they can effectively select one of our products without having to understand crazy names such as Cat Piss, Durban Poison, CBN, CBD, terpenes and trichomes.  Ultimately, most people don’t want to know how the engine works; they just want a car that will take them to the destination safely, simply, and reliably.”

Selling a consistent experience is crucial for mass appeal of cannabis products. Some edible brands have tried to make their products predictable by designing the actual bar of chocolate to ensure safe dosing that won’t get users too high, like Defonce.

Other companies are scientifically creating non-psychoactive cannabis products that still provide a relaxing experience, like hmbldt. Their CBD-based vape pens come in micro-served “feeling” varieties like “Passion or Bliss.” Plus, their sleek minimal packaging looks like it belongs on the shelf of pharmacy or high-end grocery store.

Other upscale brands opt for busier, more artistic packaging, like the commissioned murals on Binske products.

Font pairings and color palates are also considered in well-designed brands.

“Choosing a suitable font is much like picking a suitable color pallet,” commented Martin Clarke, head of design at BrainBuzz. “I would use color theory to determine which ones are best for a project based on well studied psychological effects of individual colors. Fonts can be similar in the way they have an effect on the viewer, conveying different feelings and connotations. It’s always important to choose fonts/colors/layouts etc. that work together to send a unified message whatever that may be.”

But one thing all these brands have in common? The absence of pot leaves or other stereotypical stoner images on their products.

Not only is it good branding, state law in Colorado requires cannabis packaging “does not appeal to children.” It must also be “child resistant,” closable and opaque; similar guidelines are being written for California’s imminent adult use market.

Many brands are trying to figure out ways to appeal to first time users, but Krista Whitley from Social Media Unicorn thinks she’s figured it out with the Vegas Weekend Box. Intended for tourists in Las Vegas, the box contains an array of micro-served products, so rookie users on vacation can experiment with adult use cannabis without getting too high.

Dispensaries are also stepping up their appearances to appeal to a wider audience.

In California, although still only accessible to those with MMJ cards until sometime next year, dispensaries like MadMen and Bud and Bloom are starting to resemble a cross between a chain pharmacy and an Apple Store, rather than any kind of sketchy hang out.

In Nevada, adult use cannabis just kicked off and is available at select existing medical dispensaries including Reef, right on the Last Vegas strip. In Denver, Colorado, MiNDFUL encourages their customers to be just that, essentially offering an entire lifestyle at their dispensary rather just products.

The next two years in California will determine what kind of design appeals to the new, expanded customer base, and what doesn’t. The first thing to go will probably be products like “Cap’n Kush,” edibles that are just weed-infused versions of existing products.

Even the Girl Scouts of America aren’t happy about the strain “Girl Scout Cookies” and have sent cease and desist letters to dispensaries in California. Similarly, conscious business owners are asking others to rename the strain “Gorilla Glue.”

The market for “auxiliary” or non-pot based but related products is also growing.

Products like Annabis “smell proof” designer handbags have been marketing their product as a high-end fashion brand since 2015. There are also companies trying to make the “420 version” of mainstream things, like Kush Kards, “the Hallmark of marijuana.” These greeting cards for all occasions provide a place to insert a joint or blunt, but customers have to supply it themselves.

“The emotional connection between receiving a card with a joint attached is monumental,” said CEO and founder of KushKards, Lauren Miele. “Having the ability to strike a match directly from the card gives you the ability to strike an additional emotion that you would not find on any other card.”

Pot product packaging and design has gone from DIY to top notch in only the last 10 years. It’s exciting to see how it will grow and expand across the U.S. and worldwide.

Send me some of your favorite designs on Twitter @SmartyCatG.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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