By John Schroyer
The world has taken enormous strides in relaxing marijuana laws as of late.
Nearly 20 countries have legalized cannabis possession and consumption to some degree (primarily for medical purposes), including Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Jamaica, Italy and Uruguay, to name a few.
Others have decriminalized marijuana.
Unfortunately, there aren’t very many legitimate international business opportunities for U.S. cannabis companies at this time.
Most laws create government-run industries, allow medical cannabis for research purposes only or limit cultivation to home growing. Well-regulated commercial systems – for medical or recreational cannabis – are rare.
Uruguay, for instance, made history in late 2013 when it became the first country to legalize recreational cannabis at a federal level. But while sales have yet to begin, the entire industry will be controlled by the government, leaving almost no room for plant-touching companies.
Even in Israel, which is known as a hub of MMJ research and exploration, there are still strict limits on who can grow cannabis and serve patients.
But some businesses – particularly those providing ancillary services and products such as vaporizers, consulting and software – have started to make inroads abroad, and the floodgates could open in the coming years.
“It really depends on where you are in the sector,” said Mary Smith, CEO of cannabis consumer platform Greenito, which has a brief breakdown of international cannabis laws on its site. “There are opportunities anywhere you look for them, and this is really a global movement that is really taking over a lot of the population.”
Here’s a look at several countries where cannabis companies may find some footing in the near future.
Australia (and possibly New Zealand)
Australia may be the next big opportunity for North American cannabis firms looking to capitalize on their experience and knowledge.
The Australian government has so far given the green light to medical trials for MMJ. Signs from the country are so positive that several U.S. companies have already signed partnership or licensing agreements with Australian firms eager to get into the space.
In fact, more than one Australian company has already gotten into Canadian MMJ as of last spring, while another Australian cultivator is planning to enter the U.S. market. More companies are just waiting for the government to make MMJ formally legal.
On top of that, at least one New Zealand official has indicated that it would likely follow Australia’s lead on MMJ depending on how the medical trials go. So there could be two brand new international markets for companies to tap.
While U.S. companies – and several from other countries as well – have already made inroads into the Canadian MMJ market, the real trophy will come down the road if the new prime minister follows through on his pledge to legalize recreational cannabis.
If that happens, there will almost certainly be another Green Rush, but this one will be comprised of U.S. companies flocking north. Depending on the timing and how fast rec gets up and running in Canada, it could even eclipse some destinations in the U.S. for cannabis tourism as well as attract consumers from states on or near the border.
One upcoming South American market where at least a few cannabis-related companies have been exploring their options is Chile.
The country began slowly in 2014 with a single cultivation license for research and medical purposes. This past December, the nation’s president signed a decree authorizing marijuana-based medicines to be sold in pharmacies.
MJ Freeway, a Colorado-based cannabis software firm that provides point-of-sale systems and inventory tracking, has had business dealings in Chile, although a company spokeswoman declined to give specifics. And other companies have also been keeping their eye on the nation as a potential new market.
An oddly liberal bastion of cannabis friendliness in central Europe, medical marijuana has been legal in the Czech Republic since 2013, and the small nation is trying to break into the big time now with a new MMJ research institute.
Although no fully legal dispensaries have yet opened in the nation, the cooperation between Czech and U.S. interests on MMJ research could spawn a new surge in industry interest within the country, so it’s considered ripe for business opportunities by many. Possible commercial endeavors could range from cultivation consulting to even building out dispensaries and more, depending on what direction the Czechs decide to take.
Perhaps the most long-awaited country when it comes to relaxed cannabis laws – given its history of Rastafarianism and ties to marijuana – Jamaica is currently being explored by nearly every American marijuana company that’s looking outside U.S. borders for business opportunities.
The new law, passed early last year, legalizes MMJ for both locals and foreigners who have a doctor’s recommendation from their home country. It also made recreational possession and use a petty offense – essentially legalizing the plant (albeit not for full commercial sale).
That’s piqued the interest of a lot of U.S. companies that have either been considering setting up shop on the island or been in conversations with potential local partners in Jamaica.
The “New Amsterdam,” as the city of Barcelona is often referred to by European travelers, is home to hundreds of cannabis clubs, and medical collectives there have been legal for years. There isn’t much of a regulatory structure to speak of in the country, but cannabis is legal for personal use and for sharing.
That in turn has allowed the semi-legal marijuana trade to thrive, particularly lounges that traffic in the plant and rely on membership fees from customers.
One big difference between Spain and the Netherlands, however, is that tourists aren’t welcome at clubs. They’re only for Spanish citizens.
So while Spain may not be ideal for American companies that run retail shops, it could be fertile ground for ancillary firms of various types.
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]