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

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. States are legally required to make sure that marijuana compliance laws are followed. This means that products must be packaged in child-safe containers. The result can often lead to a large amount of plastic waste, much more difficult to recycle than material you’d find at your local 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.

Packaging for cannabis should be opaque and child-deterrent. According to the guidance, cannabis includes all the parts, seeds and resin of the plants.

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.

Although it may not seem important, child-deterrent packaging generally is a more burdensome packaging requirement, often requiring less plastic and other hard material.

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. A child, for example, would need to find a way to use the cannabis flower, while an edible with activated THC or something similar would give them a high.

New guidance states that licensees can seek waivers from plastic packaging prohibitions if there are hardships in procuring non-plastic consumer packaging. These include inability or unavailability for non-plastic packages; child resistance; and the need to maintain shelf life stability, avoid cannabis/cannabis product contamination.

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 was the eleventh state that has legalized adult-use cannabis. It also became the second state in the country to have this done legislatively. This happened 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. The Legislature still has much work to be done to make sure equity is achieved in the new policy, and prevent their efforts from becoming a problem for future and current generations. For these reasons, I am allowing this bill to become law without my signature.”

Acting on the promise to centralize social equity in the legislative process, S. 25 was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. It requires regulators to lower or eliminate fees for cannabis applicants who have been adversely affected under federal law.

When adult-use sales in Vermont begin, it will likely be later in 2022.