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Foil glitter and brightly colored packaging stand out among the street skates one often encounters along the sidewalks and gutters of Philadelphia.
It’s a relatively new type of trash for the city: disposable bags to hold pocket-sized amounts of cannabis.
Just as craft beer companies put a lot of effort into creating unique identities by designing labels, so now weed packaging must stand out. Medical marijuana dispensaries and boutiques are beginning to spread across the region, carrying products that cater to a variety of personalities and tastes.
These big brand disposable containers inevitably end up being left behind wherever people gather for fun. The bags’ baked-in odor resistance makes them durable and able to withstand rain or dirt.
Once you start noticing it, you’ll see it in almost every neighborhood in Philadelphia.
Many of the pocket-sized bags come from growers on the West Coast, where hemp is legal, and the weed is increasingly grown by professional companies. It’s a competitive market, and consistent design and layout can help differentiate one brand from another.
Custom cellophane bag printing is a growing industry, and you don’t have to be an official cannabis retailer to order it. Small merchants sometimes commission themselves to add prestige to a cheaper bud – sort of like wearing a replica Rolex watch.
Since recreational cannabis is still illegal in the Commonwealth, guerrilla bags appear on the streets of Philadelphia as frequently as packaging with OEM branding.
These designs are often more interesting, featuring cartoon characters, celebrities, satirical brands, or creative artwork based on the names of well-known trademark infringing dynasties.
Since November 2020, I collect these bags wherever I go.
As an architectural historian, my eyes are drawn to details on the ground as quickly as I am to the sculptural terra cotta in Frank Furness buildings. Whoever was supposed to tell me as a kid not to pick things up off the floor must have forgotten.
My group, Now available to view online, includes the bags she collected in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and New York, as well as those donated by others who share their plots.
The design of the bags is diverse, but gather enough together and the themes appear.
Cigar manufacturer Backwoods has become a popular streetwear brand in recent years.
In addition to the Rick and Morty bag above, I’ve found four different bootleg bags on official Backwoods packaging.
The use of the “Bootleg Bart” in T-shirts has a long history as well.
This quirky Batman villain is a favorite of illicit cannabis packaging. I’m still waiting to find a Joker bag with Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero on it.
Many bags, especially those grown through legal processes, prefer vibrant color gradations and intricate abstract designs.
These impart an air of sophistication that cannot be found in stealthy branded cartoon characters. I love the different shades used in the two bags of Flavors.
My favorite bags are those that play on well-known brands or things, where skillful designers make imitations seem almost effortless.
For example, the recognizable metaphor of the Sour Patch Kids packaging has been carefully recreated in its own way for “Stoner Patch Dummies”.
But the misaligned graphics and questionable font choices in Craft Wax & Trees are interesting to me. And the bag is quite creative in its own way – there’s a display hole to show off the supposedly high-quality cannabis that’s inside.
Somewhere between Bootleg and Brand are my favorite bags, the one that comes from Pressure, which is designed for odor-resistant disposable packaging.
These bags straddle the line with carefully executed designs that play with recognizable shapes, like Gushers or Scooby-Doo, but they totally succeed in being their own thing.
Scroll down for more of my personal favourites. Keep your eyes on the ground and you might find something interesting too!