An Outlaw No More: Original Packaging

Back in the Day…

“How much for a lid, man?”

“That’s a dime.  Half for a nickel.”

In the 60s and early 70s, an ounce of pot was called a lid.  I searched the Urban Dictionary for an origin story about the term “lid”, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus, so you’ll just have to take Dr. Freshwater’s word for it.

When I first started buying weed, a lid—or dime bag—cost $10.  Today, due to inflation and the fact that marijuana cultivators are producing powerful strains that are light years better than the stuff we used to buy, a dime bag refers to a tiny little zippered baggie with just a gram in it.

CREDIT: Photography Alan Shaffer

Of course, those lids we used to buy came in the purest form of packaging. Totally transparent, as we might say today with a slight touch of irony or redundancy – take your pick. Your weed came in a simple sandwich baggie through which you could see exactly what you were buying:  mostly leaf, plus stems and seeds, and the occasional small rock or chunk of dirt. You took your weed home and dumped it out on your rolling tray to “clean” it. This meant you picked out the stems and any foreign objects, and then tipped your rolling tray up while you used the cover of a pack of Zig Zags to sift out the seeds.

Back then, instead of stopping by your friendly, local marijuana dispensary, you had to find a dealer. When I was going to college south of downtown, our first dealer was an old Black guy who lived just a few miles away in South Central. We were introduced to him by some surfers from the SGV who frequently stopped by our apartment to get us stoned. Exactly how some suburban white surfers connected with some cool old guy from Watts is unfortunately lost in the mists of memory.

I do, however,  remember this:  his pot stash was buried in a Folgers Coffee can in his backyard. And he had his own slang, too. His ounces were sealed in plastic sandwich baggies just like all the lids we’d seen before, but he called them “cans”. You could buy a can for $10 and a half-can for $5. It’s possible the term “can” pre-dates the invention of the plastic sandwich baggie, or perhaps it was simply a cultural difference from a different side of town.  We’ll never know.

What? No More Plastic Baggie?

 

Legalized recreational marijuana meant it was inevitable that the packaging wars would commence. New regulations had to be enforced for public safety to be taken seriously.  More importantly—at least for growers—marijuana was about to enter the competitive world of branding. Black market dealers had always sold different strains of weed with exotic names like OG Kush, Sour Diesel, and Girl Scout Cookies, but those are just generic names that identify a particular strain. Think Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay in the wine business. The big opportunity would be in brand identity. For the growers, entrepreneurs and marketers without media tools available, like advertising, the only place to do that is on the package.

Dr. Freshwater may have whored a bit in the advertising business, so I know just enough about packaging to make myself dangerous. Yes, I’ve written some package copy over the years. So, let’s take a look at some of the stuff that no one ever bothered to include on a plastic baggie of pot. Though my dispensary sells all kinds of marijuana products, including vapes and edibles, I limited my research to flowers because good old-fashioned smoking is my preferred method of ingesting cannabis.

Packaging Grows Up, Like it or Not

Let’s start with the obvious stuff seen on virtually all modern packages of cannabis products:  a bar code, a government warning and a cancer warning. Here in California, every package I’ve purchased also has what appears to be a state certification logo .We also get the name of the strain and whether it’s a Sativa, Indica or Hybrid. Other standard info includes net weight, percentage THC and CBD, harvest and packaging dates, and batch number.

Personally, I get a little pissed off when it comes to quantities. As far as I can tell, no one has taken the Costco approach and is willing to sell us ounces. I did find a brand called Devil’s Lettuce—a marijuana slang from the 19th century—that sold half ounces for less than half the price if you were buying that quantity in eighths. These weren’t beauty buds, but they did the trick and were a lot more conducive to rolling joints, if that’s something you remember how to do.

One alternative is pre-rolled joints. Typically, they come in plastic tubes reminiscent of the aluminum tubes cigars have long been stored in. The plastic tubes come in handy if you’re truckin’ around. And I found pre-rolled doofers in one gram and half-gram sizes. The half-grams were called “Littles”.  Cute. I think you can also find pre-rolls in cardboard 5-packs like Swisher Sweets, but decidedly more gentrified in design.

Which brings us to the fun stuff…  There are literally hundreds of brands and packages out there, but Dr. Freshwater is just a solo researcher in his tie-dyed lab coat, so my review will be limited to the highlights and observations of a limited sample.

Simplicity – Upsides and Downsides

Let’s start with a couple packages that are noteworthy for their functionality and simplicity.  They both come in plastic bottles where all you have to do is squeeze the sides near the top and the lid pops open. Dr. Freshwater loves this. As you’ve probably noticed, virtually all cannabis products come in child-proof packages. I’m all for safety, but sometimes the packages are so hard to break into, they’re also practically adult-proof.

Anyway, the first of these packages positions itself as strictly Medical Cannabis because that’s the only name that appears on the label. There is a green California Bear with an outline of the state of California behind it and a check in the Indica box. Other than that, this is a strictly medicinal look. For a certain segment of cannabis consumers, I’m sure this is appealing, but hardly a persuasive powerhouse. Its packaging cousin has to be The Weed Brand™.  These guys seem to be winking at all the hype by taking an almost generic approach to branding.  No sizzle. Hey, someone had to stake out the honesty position. You certainly get the feeling that you’re not paying more for a fancy package.

Selling the Sensation

Now for one of Dr. Freshwater’s favorite new cannabis concepts. Two brands, CRU Cannabis and HighGarden, come in nearly identical boxes with a pouch inside, which suggests they’re different brand names distributed by the same producer. The boxes allow for more real estate to sell the consumer ideas about what the cannabis inside the pouch will do for you. On the back is a sliding scale that moves between “relaxed” or “active” to indicate the effect.

Even more fun than the sliding scale are the three descriptors you’ll want to know about: Taste+Scent, Sensation, When to Use. “Sensation” is probably the descriptor I was most curious about. A strain called PB&J will leave you in “Euphoric Relaxation”, ready for some “Creative Thinking”. Cherry Berry is “Cerebral & Energizing”, which of course causes “Giggly Happiness”.  As you might have guessed, Dr. Freshwater strictly adheres to scientific methodology and would love to introduce the best practices and clinical standards used to determine these sensations into his own laboratory research work.

Photography Alan Shaffer/3-D Modeling Frank Dibble

Dr. Freshwater’s research lab is down for the night.  It appears that I’ve run out of products to test, so I’ve turned up the volume on Route 78 West.

The Awards Go To…

 And now it’s time for the Twisted Doobies, Dr. Freshwater’s awards for excellence in cannabis packaging design. This year’s field was limited to three entries, but surely in years to come the competition will be much more, well, competitive.

THIRD PLACE

Maven Genetics Cannabis Flower. This stunning black box with gold zigzagging stripes that suggest the letter “M” is the epitome of luxury. Their slogan, “Grown with integrity, care and love. Only the finest flower selected”, says it all. The bottle inside mimics the box design. A little card inside has a very colorful shot of a bud called Tangie that looked nothing like the bud in the jar, but who cares. Damn it’s a beautiful bud. Extra points for listing the Terpenes.

SECOND PLACE

Lowell Herb Co Top Shelf Flower. The outer box is pure genius and a real workhorse. On top is the Lowell Pledge. You can trust them. There are no impurities inside. The box itself unfolds like a marijuana flower origami, revealing a handsome woodcut of a bull/man, standing tall and dressed in a shirt and vest, with his hand holding a shovel, fields in the background. This is the setting for the story—beginning in the spring of 1909 on the Central Coast of California—of William “Bull” Lowell. They definitely want you to read it.

FIRST PLACE

Humboldt Farms Classic Flower, Sativa and Indica. These two beautiful jars are identical, yet mirror opposites. The jars themselves are sturdy with rustic wooden caps bearing the Humboldt slogan:  “Live Give Grow”. The brilliance comes from the clever visual information you get from the label. The sativa version is an illustration of a grove of trees, perhaps redwoods, in yellow, pink, green and light blue telling you that this is daytime weed. The indica version is the same grove, but the colors are dark blue and green and the stars are out, so you know this is the nighttime weed. But here’s the kicker:  on both labels, parked dead center in front of the tree with the thickest trunk is a classic VW micro bus. Too cool. It’s like you’ve been camped out there all day.

Truth in Advertising

Dr. Freshwater has a confession to make. When I started to write this column, I thought it would be easy to find a stock shot of a baggie of weed that looked like the ones we knew back in the late 60s. Not so. Sure, I found dozens of shots of beauty buds in zippered baggies, because that’s the way marijuana has been cultivated for a very long time now.

So please take a minute and revisit the original package at the top of this story. Look closely.  See anything wrong? Yes, the stems and seeds are real, but the leaf is oregano. From my days in advertising, I can assure you that it’s not unusual to make substitutions when the real thing is unavailable or doesn’t look like it should.

I think it looks rather convincing. In fact, I’m sure most of you skipped right on past it because it fit an image deeply embedded in your memory muscle. Some of you might have even scored a fake baggie of weed back in the day.

This is Aloft Magazine’s first truly interactive opportunity. We know our readers are knowledgeable, observant and seekers of truth concerning all things cannabis. I’m sure that some of you spotted my harmless deception, even if it only registered in some dusty, dark corner of your brain.

So tell us about it. You can curse at good old Dr. Freshwater or smile and give him an atta’ boy. We want to hear what you think.

Hey, it’s just packaging folks.

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