Las Vegas — Some packaging companies still might be scared about the idea of working with the cannabis industry.
After all, the federal government still views marijuana as illegal despite moves by a majority of states to legalize use in one way or another.
But with the burgeoning use of legal cannabis on a state-by-state basis, packaging companies would be well-served by engaging the market, one observer believes.
Opportunities, Chris Walsh said, "they are massive."
"I'm not here to promote the industry," he said at the Packaging Conference in Las Vegas. "There's a ton of interest in this industry from the mainstream business world. Those who get in early are the ones who are going to have huge success."
Walsh, the founding editor and vice president of Marijuana Business Daily, was a keynote speaker at the conference, which devoted an entire morning to the opportunities marijuana holds for packaging companies.
"The potential is very clear," said Walsh, whose media company reports on industry developments and organizes conferences.
Legalized marijuana is attracting business professionals looking to capitalize on the burgeoning market.
"This is a serious industry with serious people and serious opportunities," he said.
"When you think of opportunities, this is a generational one," Walsh told the crowd. And as a journalist who has only tried marijuana a few times, he does not hype anything. And he prefers beer, anyway.
Walsh pointed to one particular portion of the business that provides great opportunity for packaging makers.
"The infused products side of this industry is growing very fast," he told the crowd. "And that's creating huge packaging opportunities."
Regulators are requiring that these products, such as brownies, gummies and topicals, for example, be in child-resistant packaging for safety.
Walsh said 34 states and Washington, D.C., allow for the use of medical marijuana, and 10 states and D.C., allow for recreational use at this point.
"This is a massive industry. All of this has to be packaged, all of it. I cannot stress enough that you need to look into this for the future, because if you don't, you will be kicking yourself," he said.
As co-founder and chief creative officer at packaging firm STO Responsible, Sandra Elkind makes packaging for the marijuana business.
"The case for plastics in cannabis is pretty strong," she said. "Plastic can help to keep the cost of packaging more affordable."
Rigid packaging, she said, can help protect both children and pets from accidental ingestion.
STO, based in Boulder, Colo., has developed a line of cannabis packaging that can be reused or repurposed by consumers.
The packaging that uses "oxygen-driven degradable polypropylene" also will break down in 10 years instead of hundreds of years for traditional plastics, according to the company.
"We found that cannabis has a major plastic problem. This problem is a lot more complicated than just the environmental impact of plastic. Added to the product is the demands and nuances of cannabis regulations.
"Plastic is one way to address needs but also creates ecological challenge," Elkind said.
Creation of reusable packaging, along with educating consumers about cannabis packaging recycling and end-of-life handling, are important steps in making the industry more sustainable, she said.
Ross Perry said Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. is taking a positive view toward the opportunities to serve the needs industry.
Perry, the company's general manager of rigid packaging sales in North America, described an "exciting and quite unknown future related to cannabis" but also expressed a willingness to be involved in providing packaging solutions. "It's real, it's happening, and we expect to see just more and more of it," Perry said.