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Federal Standards Handbook Is Getting New Sections On Cannabis Packaging, Labeling And Storage



Federal, state and local officials have voted to add a pair of new marijuana items to a federal handbook that are meant to provide model standards for cannabis definitions,  packaging and labeling requirements and best storage practices to control for moisture loss in marijuana flower.

At a National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) conference on Wednesday, members of the bicameral conference’s House of Representatives and House of Delegates passed the marijuana proposals that were offered by the Laws and Regulations (L&R) Committee. The package needed 27 votes to pass and it received 33.

NCWM previously approved a number of relevant cannabis-related changes to federal guidance from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last year as part of their annual meeting. But some items were held back for additional consideration, including those that were taken up during this week’s meeting.

Michael Bronstein, president of the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH), said in a statement on Wednesday that the vote “is the most historic for cannabis standards and a culmination of ATACH’s pioneering calls for industry wide standards in 2014.”

“This means state and federal regulators will use material that ATACH members helped develop through the ASTM International standards process, as universal cannabis standards that will be referenced in the NIST handbook,” he said. “It all but guarantees that standards developed through this pipeline, which ATACH helped build, will be referenced by state regulators and eventually by the federal government. Standards are fundamental to legitimate cannabis commerce, uniformity in regulations across jurisdictions, and to maintain public health and safety of consumers; today is monumental.”

One adopted measure would establish a definition for cannabis that reads:

Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae, of which Cannabis sativa, indica, ruderalis are species., and any hybridization thereof. This definition includes products that contain 0.3 percent or less of Total Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (also known as Hemp) and products that contain more than 0.3 percent of Total Delta-9 THC (also known as cannabis, marijuana or marihuana).”

It further proposes basic labeling requirements for cannabis products. Such items must capitalize and italicize the word “Cannabis” under the guideline, as well as denote that the product either “Contains 0.3% or less Total Delta-9 THC” or “Contains more than 0.3% Total Delta- 9 THC.”

Additionally, it says that the back or side panel on cannabis packaging must include “a declaration of the labeled cannabinoid per serving or application,” with a specification that “the cannabinoid quantity declaration shall be in milligrams.” The policy would go into effect starting January 1, 2024.

“The reason behind all of it is just to allow consumers and patients to understand what it is that they’re buying—clearly stated, what’s in it and how much,” Charlie Rutherford, co-chair of the NCWM Cannabis Task Group, told Marijuana Moment. “That’s obviously fairness.”

The other adopted change to the NIST handbook would create water activity rules for the sale of bulk cannabis.

“When unprocessed Cannabis, is kept, offered, or exposed for sale, sold, bartered, or exchanged, or ownership transfers, the water activity shall be 0.60 (± 0.05),” it says.

For bulk sales of cannabis in liquid form, “the reference temperature for measurement shall be 20 °C (68 °F).” it says. “Products shall be delivered at a temperature within ± 2 °C (5 °F). Artificially heating liquids to temperatures higher than the specified limits is prohibited.” The same 0.60 (± 0.05) water activity standard would apply for liquid cannabis, too.

“I’m thrilled that NCWM had the vision five years ago to explore harmonizing cannabis methods of sale and packaging and labeling regulations, which has resulted in the first nationally recognized regulations for ensuring fairness in every transaction,” Rutherford said. “I appreciate NIST’s willingness to publish these NCWM standards in their handbooks.”

When earlier versions of the two proposals came up during last year’s NCWM annual meeting, they were narrowly defeated, coming short by just two votes. This round, Rutherford said, the cannabis task force made sure that they were “in touch with every single state” and spent time “helping them understand what it means [and] what it doesn’t mean.”

Part of the reason for the success this year is “just by virtue of more states having medical programs or recreational programs—but I think it might also be due to a little bit more comfort on the topic,” he said.

“Even in states that don’t have medical or adult-use, some of them are recognizing that they do have a hemp program, and then it applies there,” Rutherford said. “But then they also recognize that they want these to pass so that their friends and other states have the ability to use them as model standards.”

Another proposed cannabis change to the NIST handbook that came out of the Specifications and Tolerances (S&T) Committee was not assigned voting status for this week’s event at the conference’s interim meeting in January. The developing item would establish “uniform standards for scale suitability” for cannabis that could be used to “strengthen each jurisdiction’s ability to effectively regulate the industry in a fair and equitable manner.”

The conference adopted the two other cannabis measures despite early pushback from NIST’s Office of Weights and Measures (OWM), which said in an analysis that while it “recognizes the importance of this work and the progress the [task force] has made thus far,” it still believes “there are some significant issues that need to be addressed before this block of items is ready for adoption.”

NIST’s OWM raised concerns about the proposed effective date, questioned the need for a definition of cannabis and suggested an expansion of the scope of the water activity requirements measure, for example.

NIST, which does not play a voting role in whether the conference items are adopted, has separately investigated marijuana issues and worked to develop testing standards.

Relatedly, the federal institute announced in 2020 that it was launching a cannabis testing program to help ensure that the products people purchase from retailers and dispensaries are accurately labeled.

In 2021, the agency also invited labs to participate in a large-scale study to assess their ability to accurately analyze marijuana and hemp samples for their cannabinoid profile and possible contaminants.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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