As states that have legalized cannabis continue to roll out new regulations on retail packaging for marijuana products, brands are scrambling to find the ultimate solution. While plastic containers are cost-effective and glass jars provide a premium feel, exposing the product to oxygen and light immediately causes the product to lose its luster.
This process of oxidation works as an accelerator for toxic growths like mold, yeast, and other harmful bacteria that could prove dangerous if smoked alongside the marijuana they inhabit.
The only way to ensure that cannabis is packaged for retail void of any oxygen is to hermetically seal the container. The process of nitrogen-sealing has been used extensively for years to package foods around the world, preserving freshness and allowing for longer transport and extended shelf life.
The nitrogen-sealing process hasn’t been widely adopted in the cannabis industry just yet, but a handful of brands are getting ahead of the wave and canning their cannabis. Henry’s Original was the first California brand that I saw selling their product in sealed cans with a soda-like pop top. Their Skywalker OG felt like it had just been trimmed, maintaining its original dense but lush texture regardless of when it went in the can.
A representative from Henry’s Original put me in contact with Scott Martin, CEO of N2 Packaging Systems, who is leading the charge in adapting this tried and true storage method to the marijuana industry.
Marijuana.com (MJ): Why would a company want to nitrogen seal versus traditional cannabis packaging?
Scott Martin: The primary benefit is preservation. We hermetically seal the container, modify the atmosphere, and prevent oxidation. We can take a product that begins to degrade very rapidly and extend the shelf life dramatically. We’ve done a one-year analysis and we’re currently conducting a five-year extended test on how long it will preserve the product.
MJ: Why would someone hold onto their weed for that long?
Scott: It’s probably more of an asset to larger-scale producers who want to keep their product consistent as supply ramps up. That way, the consumer always experiences the product as it was the day it was packaged.
MJ: Where was this process being used before, and when did you first see it applied to cannabis?
Scott: This process has been utilized in the food industry for a long time, whether in a bag of potato chips or a can of tuna. We first began utilizing the technology for cannabis in Oregon. We had a decent response, but once Willie’s Reserve started using it up in Seattle, we became more recognized and it spread from there.
MJ: Any negatives to packaging with nitrogen that people should keep in mind?
Scott: I think that the cost is the biggest thing. What we find is that the people we work with have a long-term view about the industry and they really want to ensure the customer has a farm-to-table experience where whatever they package, it’s going to remain exactly the same until the consumer opens it. When there is consistency with a brand like Henry’s, it creates consumer trust and confidence — however you package it is how it’s going to be experienced when the can is opened, so we encourage certain humidity levels and we want the farmers to can the product after it is fully cured.
MJ: As more regulations are rolled out and the packaging guidelines get stricter, do you see this kind of process growing in popularity once brands have to convert to opaque packaging?
Scott: Yes, the more the regulations come into play where the states require non-transparent childproof packaging, those things have really helped us. It’s great to see in California especially how it’s taken off. Once the consumers accept this as a delivery method in the cannabis industry, it will continue to grow from there. The branding is a big part of it, as they’re able to stand out with the packaging and even if it does sit out for a while you don’t have to worry about loss of weight or degradation of the product.
MJ: Are there any advantages to using a can, specifically?
Scott: The recyclability of it is a big thing, it’s 100% recyclable. The can is the most recycled food packaging on the planet.
MJ: Could you nitrogen-seal a glass container or does it have to be metal?
Scott: I believe you can put nitrogen in just about anything. But light exposure is an issue with glass. The other thing with glass is it will never be child resistant. Because seeing the product has been our biggest hurdle overall, we’ve been trying to design a clear can — there is a material that allows you to make a three-layer plastic that will hold the nitrogen. The reason traditional plastic wouldn’t work is it is gas permeable, so over a certain period of time you’re going to have an exchange between oxygen and the nitrogen and you’re going to have degradation of the product. The new layered plastic will retain the nitrogen, though there will still be an issue with the light exposure.
MJ: One of the bigger concerns with buying concentrates at dispensaries or from deliveries is that the product eventually gets “sugared” up as it oxidizes. Are there any plans for nitrogen packing concentrates?
Scott: We hope so. We’re also working on something for prerolls, so we’re excited about that … I’ve never had one that wasn’t stale.
After speaking with Scott and realizing the enormous potential nitrogen packing offers brands, I wanted to speak with one about their experience. The Lemon Tree, a highly-regarded brand from Santa Cruz, CA, is known for their connoisseur-quality flower. The brand was also an early adopter of nitrogen packing, so I spoke with Matt Rockwell, owner of The Lemon Tree, to find out why they made the switch.
MJ: Why did you convert to nitrogen packing?
Matt: We switched over so consumers could hold onto their product for an extended duration, and us as well. It stores the cannabis a lot better than a bag or jar, plus a consumer can save money by buying in bulk if they can hang onto the product longer. Plus, the cannabis smell doesn’t come through the packaging, so you don’t have to worry about getting any weird looks while walking down the street. The cans are also much lighter than jars, so it saves us money on transportation. A pound of cannabis packaged in jars weighs an additional 50 pounds, while the cans only add another two pounds.
MJ: How are changing laws affecting the growth of this style of packaging?
Matt: A lot of people don’t like that you can’t see through and view the product, but people trust a brand like Lemon Tree, so they know what they are getting in the can. Everyone will have to ebb and flow with the changing regulations, so it helps that the can and top are childproof and opaque.
MJ: Did you have any hesitations about nitrogen-sealing your product?
Matt: Well, there is still somewhat of a stigma around using what some call a tuna can, but people are starting to realize it’s easier to carry in your pocket than a jar. We’re gaining a lot of traction with consumers who love that experience of popping the can, that sound and the rush of air that comes out.
As long as high-end cannabis brands continue to utilize nitrogen packing to preserve their superior product, consumer adoption should continue to trend upward. If you care about the freshness of the flower you consume and want to buy in bulk to save money, it may be high time you crack open a fresh can of cannabis.