Over 200,000 full-time jobs and growing — that’s the impact cannabis is having on our economy. 

This data didn’t come from the U.S. government, but from a study reported in Leafly. It names legal cannabis as “the greatest job creation machine in America,” making gains of 21 percent in 2017 and another 44 percent in 2018.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics did weigh in on this exploding market, naming cannabis as a growth driver that, by 2020, will outpace other industries.

According to a report from New Frontier Data, the cannabis industry is projected to create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020. This will equal about a quarter million new positions — outpacing not only manufacturing, but utilities and government jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These employment numbers do not include states that have yet to approve the legal sale of cannabis, which will likely create more jobs over the coming years.  

Package design and branding professionals are sure to be in demand for this new industry. In fact, according to 99 Designs, since 2015, there has been a 59 percent increase in design jobs with the words “cannabis” or “marijuana” in the title.

A look at the cannabis job market

According to Trade-schools.net, this is an industry that has created “29 Awesome Cannabis related jobs” that didn’t even exist (legally) a few years ago. These new jobs generally start at entry level “weed-trimmer” positions earning from $17,000 to $41,000. You can move up to a “master extractor” position earning $80,000 to $250,000. These employees oversee the production of safe and effective oils and concentrates from harvested cannabis plants. They extract precise amounts of THC and/or CBD. 

The cannabis industry has a requirement for many business standard support positions ranging from lawyers, IT managers and web developers, writers, marketing and HR managers, electricians and HVAC technicians and, of course, somebody has to design branded, compliant packaging that differentiates the product.  

Cannabis packaging & design takes on ‘wild west’ nature of emerging new category

There is a “bewildering variety” of packaging formats — everything from glass and plastic jars to tubes, sprays, decorated tins, cartons, pouches, luxe boxes and a whole host of child-resistant designs. 

The industry will need designers for the same skills already predominant throughout the CPG world. In other words, the cannabis industry requires experts in logo creation, brand storytelling, web development and packaging design. Of course, they’ll also have to be able to communicate the personality of each brand through the visual language and emotional cues of the category.

In addition, experience with highly regulated products (think spirits and pharma) will be essential. The recent media buzz about lung ailments associated with vaping makes it important for cannabis brands and packaging designers to stay current with regulations — and understand what needs to go on packaging and labels. 

What seems to make the most sense in light of the state-by-state regulatory morass is digitally connected packaging. Companies such as Digimarc, Certilogo, and HP come to mind. All are breaking new ground with embedded barcodes and authentication tags.

Think about it. You have an established brand with a loyal following and your state comes up with a whole new set of regulations. It’s not the brand itself you have to change but the messaging on the package. And today you can do that by embedding barcodes or attaching authentication tags that can be scanned by your smartphone. 

The importance of authenticity

Designers adept at connected packaging should be in demand for another reason. This technology is an ideal way to communicate the authenticity of the product. Smart barcodes could link consumers to where the “bud was born,” when it was grown — and illustrate how it meets sustainability standards. Product information could also include the nature of the plant’s effect (from energizing to mellow) and its use (“great for parties” or “right before bed”). 

The point is the connected package should be able to handle the product’s complex regulatory requirements while simultaneously pleasing its discriminating consumers. For designers who have mastered the best practices of this channel, a career in the cannabis industry will be a lot more than just a pipe dream.

Tom Newmaster, partner at FORCEpkg, will present branding strategies that can be carried over from traditional CPG to cannabis at CPX20: Cannabis Products Exchange, set for July 30-31 in Denver. To learn more, visit cpx20.com.

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