One year ago, Uruguay’s cannabis industry was still working on implementing new regulations. Today, 17 companies have been licensed in some form and roughly 20 more have projects under government analysis.
If all the projects are approved, industry investment could total $80 million, Martin Rodriguez, executive director of the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, told Marijuana Business Daily.
While Uruguay holds the distinction of being the first country to federally legalize recreational marijuana, only two of the licensed companies – ICC Labs and Simbiosys – operate in the adult-use segment.
Eleven of the licenses issued by the Ministry of Agriculture were for the cultivation of nonpsychoactive cannabis (maximum 1% THC) to be grown:
- On roughly 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of outdoor space.
- In 15,000 square meters of greenhouses.
The remaining licenses were issued for medical cannabis cultivation and production, product formulations or scientific research.
Roughly half the projects under review are focused on extraction and manufacture; the other half are for high-THC cannabis cultivation for medical purposes or scientific research.
Business challenges and opportunities
MJBizDaily spoke with several entrepreneurs for tips on how to succeed in Uruguay:
• Embrace local culture.
Adapting entrepreneurship to the local culture is critical to success in new markets, according to Pablo Riveiro, founder of food products distributor Sandri.
For example, mate is a popular traditional hot drink in Uruguay. Last August, Sandri launched a new option of mate with nonpsychoactive cannabis for its Abuelita brand of yerba mate to capitalize on the broader popularity of cannabis-infused wellness drinks.
“Yerba mate is part of the Uruguayan DNA, so it was just a matter of time until we could have an option with added cannabis,” Riveiro said.
“It was a complex process of R&D to formulate the product we wanted and to convince local regulators that this is safe for consumers.”
• Understand local regulations and needs.
CannaPur recently made headlines in Uruguay with the announcement that it will cultivate five hectares of greenhouses in the next five years and use the harvests to produce extracts, thus becoming a vertically integrated medical cannabis company.
The project started two years ago, and co-founder Agustina Loinaz told MJBizDaily that there were significant regulatory hurdles because it was a new industry.
For cannabis companies looking to do business in Uruguay, Agustina recommends not only being familiar with the regulatory framework and working closely with the authorities but also knowing which local communities would welcome the creation of new jobs.
CannaPur will launch its operations in Juan Lacaze, a small city that has an unemployment rate above 10% because of recent closures of top employers.
• To serve the medical market, work closely with doctors and patients.
Greenfields Health Care, a manufacturer of cannabinoid treatments, saw the current limited availability of nationally produced medical cannabis as an opportunity to import.
It’s critical to establish your products and your firm as valuable to the medical community, Gaston Rodriguez, a Greenfields representative, told MJBizDaily.
The key is “to work closely with doctors and patients, because they need to have a familiar face they can trust behind a brand and be able to ask questions,” he said.
Rodriguez believes that trust will provide continued opportunity, even as production of medical cannabis in Uruguay by other firms increases.
• Get organized.
Because having “a regulatory framework in place isn’t enough,” a group of industry representatives joined together to launch the Chamber of Medical Cannabis Companies of Uruguay (CECAM), said Marco Algorta, a spokesman for the organization.
“Businesses in the sector realized that getting organized was crucial to make sure that the government moves forward with all the aspects of the law,” Algorta said.
“Uruguay has everything needed to develop a booming industry. It’s time to make sure that we get the necessary clarity about licenses” and the process for getting applications approved.
• Look for adjacent opportunities.
Not every cannabis-related opportunity in Uruguay is directly tied to growing and processing the plant.
Eduardo Blasina – who has been involved in the Uruguayan legal cannabis industry since the beginning – founded the Cannabis Museum of Montevideo to show the world how “Uruguay has a liberal and open society, that treats the cannabis plant with respect and without fear, developing an industry around the unique versatility that the plant has to offer.”
Alfredo Pascual can be reached at [email protected]
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