New Vermont Guidance Looks to Eliminate Plastic Waste From State’s Cannabis Industry

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While witnessing the legal cannabis industry continually blossom over the years has been an exciting and invigorating experience for many, it’s also becoming increasingly challenging to ignore the amount of plastic waste involved. As states are required to enforce cannabis compliance, which generally means child-proof packaging for any products leaving the building, the result is often an abundance of single-use plastic that is more challenging to recycle than materials you might find at the grocery store.

Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board is looking to change that. In new “Guidance on Packaging,” released earlier this month, the board states that “packaging that is intended for consumer purchase at a retail location shall be reusable and shall not be plastic.” The guidance gives examples for acceptable reusable materials, including glass, tin, cardboard, and bamboo.

The packaging for cannabis must be child-deterrent and opaque. The guidance defines cannabis as all parts of the plant, including seeds; resin extracted from any part of the plant; and any compound, manufacture, salt, derivative or preparation of the plant, its seed or resin.

This is a new clarification, as “child-deterrent packaging” means tear-resistant packaging that can be sealed in a way that “would deter children under five years of age from easily accessing the content of the package within a reasonable time” while still being simple for adults to properly use and access.

Child-resistant packaging, on the other hand, includes packaging designed or constructed to be “significantly difficult for children under five years of age to open,” or to obtain a toxic or harmful amount of the substance in the container “within a reasonable amount of time,” also that adults can easily use.

It may seem like a small distinction, but child-deterrent packaging is generally a less burdensome requirement from a packaging standpoint, usually requiring less use of plastic or other hard materials.

The packaging for cannabis products, meaning concentrated cannabis and product that is “composed of cannabis and other ingredients,” intended for use and consumption, including edibles, ointments, tinctures and vaporizer cartridges with cannabis oil, must be child-resistant and opaque.

It’s a rational distinction to make, given that there are less risks of danger for a young child accessing cannabis flower than a cannabis edible. For example, a child would have to figure out some way to smoke the flower to experience its effects, whereas an edible or anything with activated THC would have a psychoactive effect upon consumption.

The new guidance also says that a licensee may seek a waiver to the prohibition on plastic consumer packaging if they can demonstrate a hardship in securing non-plastic packaging, including unavailability of non-plastic packaging; inability to achieve child-resistance; or the necessity to preserve shelf-life stability, prevent cannabis or cannabis product contamination or avoid exposure of cannabis/cannabis products toxic or harmful substances.

For those attempting to secure a waiver, a licensee must propose a packaging alternative that uses “de minimis plastic,” meaning only the amount of plastic “reasonably needed” to overcome the hardship identified in the waiver petition.

Vermont became the 11th state to regulate adult-use cannabis sales and the second state to do so legislatively, rather than through a voter initiative, nearly two years ago. Governor Phil Scott announced on October 7, 2020 that he would allow S. 54—the bill that would regulate and tax cannabis sales in the state—to become law without his signature.

“I know it is difficult to take on these complex issues remotely and during this unprecedented Pandemic,” Scott said in a statement at the time. “Again, I thank the legislators who worked to move toward me over the past two years on this issue. Nevertheless, the Legislature has much more work to do to ensure equity in this new policy and to prevent their work from becoming a public health problem for current and future generations. For these reasons, I am allowing this bill to become law without my signature.”

In 2021, the legislature moved forward to act on the promise of centering social equity, as the House and Senate passed S. 25, which looks to strengthen social equity provisions, requiring regulators to reduce or eliminate licensing fees for applicants who have been negatively impacted by federal enforcement of cannabis laws.

The new rules for plastic packaging will be in place when adult-use sales begin in Vermont, sometime later in 2022.

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