Medical marijuana industry flourishing in Uruguay

Montevideo, Aug 13 (EFE).- A global pioneer in regulating marijuana recreational use, Uruguay’s medicinal cannabis industry is also flourishing, which, despite the barriers, is growing “exponentially” with a “wide range” of products.

Despite critics’ predictions of a chaotic scenario of insecurity and “narcotourism”, the then President of Uruguay José Mujica (2010-2015) in 2013 launched an unprecedented “socio-political experiment” by becoming the first country in the world to legalize cannabis.

That route, first drawn up as part of the fight against drug trafficking, has evolved in the decade since to reach a horizon with real commercial potential: the export of medicinal cannabis.

The cannabis industry is growing “exponentially” in Uruguay, where 199 business licenses have been issued, co-founder of the business platform Cannabis Business Hub, Mercedes Ponce de Leon, tells Efe.

“Over $70 million has been invested in the sector and, for example, of the 12 industrialization licenses that exist, 50% are from foreign capital and 50% from Uruguayan capital,” she says.

“If we add the exports of medical cannabis and industrial hemp, in 2020, $7 million were exported, in 2021, $8 million and so far in 2022 already over four and a half million; and it is expected to continue growing,” she adds.

The entrepreneur projects that the global cannabis market will reach 200 billion by 2028, compared to close to $30 billion in 2020.

General secretary of the Chamber of Medicinal Cannabis Companies Daniel Macchi, however, stresses that the prohibitionist barriers still exist.

Besides the temporary problems for international trade derived from the war between Russia and Ukraine, cannabis faces a “complicated” outlook of conforming to strict global standards, Macchi says.

“We are governed by the United Nations in this business, so there are certain international treaties that must be taken into account when it comes to the drug trade,” he adds.

But despite the persistent barriers, interest in these medicinal products, prescribed for ailments linked to chemotherapy, epilepsy or amyotrophic multilateral sclerosis is steadily growing, according to Macchi.

“We can basically find Germany as the main market in the world in terms of money and number of patients who demand cannabis-based products; Israel as second (…) Then there is Japan, that is being added; there are Australia and New Zealand,” he adds.

Although Uruguay has regional competition from Colombia, Mexico and Ecuador, its agriculture tradition and experience in handling “delicate” horticultural productions make it stand out, he explains.

It also has a “wide range” of products to offer, ranging from industrial hemp – biomass for non-medical use – and cannabis oils to dried flowers for medicinal use. EFE


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