Uruguay exports largest-ever shipment of high-THC flower, but buyer remains a mystery

A shipment of medical cannabis exported from Uruguay in late 2019 to Europe is raising eyebrows, both about the buyer’s identity and the cargo’s sheer size.

The 1,000-kilogram (2,205-pound) shipment of high-THC cannabis flower was legally exported from Uruguay to Portugal late last year, according to Uruguayan customs documents viewed by Marijuana Business Daily. 

By comparison, Germany – the largest importer of medical cannabis flower in the world – imported an average of 542 kilograms per month in 2019 for pharmacy dispensing.

The Uruguayan shipment – likely the biggest-ever single international shipment of medical cannabis – symbolizes an increasingly global medical marijuana industry that’s still in its infancy.

Yet the importer, purpose and final destination of the product remains largely a secret.

The customs document shows that Uruguay-based licensed producer Fotmer Life Sciences exported the flower to Portugal in exchange for $3.2 million, including cost, insurance and freight.

The Portuguese importer is not identified in the document, dated Oct. 23, 2019.

The Portuguese regulatory agency responsible for authorizing imports said information that MJBizDaily requested “is not public.”

Portugal has a regulatory framework that allows domestic sales of medical cannabis. But no Portuguese company has been able to get the necessary approval to start selling to domestic patients.

For that reason, it seems all the more unusual that the high-THC flower was shipped to the European nation late last year – unless it was destined for another country.

Importer unknown

Fotmer CEO Jordan Lewis previously acknowledged shipping “just over 1 metric ton of THC-rich dried flower to an EU country.”

However, Vera Tochetti, the company’s marketing director, told MJBizDaily in February that Fotmer cannot disclose the name of the buyer.

Infarmed, the Portuguese regulatory agency responsible for approving imports and exports of narcotics, also said it would not identify the buyer: “The specific information sought is not public, falling within the scope of the activities of the licensed companies,” the agency told MJBizDaily.

Portuguese licensed cannabis producers are the most likely candidates to have imported the flower from Uruguay, because their permits include import and export. But the importer also could have been, for instance, a non-cannabis-related laboratory needing product for research purposes.

However, it is unlikely such a large quantity was imported for research.

Only four companies in Portugal had a cannabis license at the time the import took place, according to the Infarmed website.

Three of the companies – London-based Emmac Life Sciences (through its subsidiary Terra Verde), Toronto-headquartered The Flowr Corp. (through its subsidiary Holigen/RPK Biopharma) and Sabores Púrpura in Coimbra, Portugal – said they are not involved with the shipment.

Canadian producer Tilray would neither confirm nor deny to MJBizDaily whether it was the importer.

“For commercial reasons, Tilray doesn’t give details of whom we buy from or details of purchasing,” Sarah Sheppard, European communications consultant for Tilray, wrote in an email.

Destination unknown

The first medical cannabis products still haven’t started being sold in Portugal as of now, which suggests that the high-THC flower could’ve been imported into Portugal with the purpose of being reexported to other countries.

The only companies that have publicly announced commercial exports of cannabis from Portugal so far are:

  • Tilray to Cannamedical in Germany, 500 kilograms delivered in early September 2019. The Uruguayan customs document is dated the end of October 2019.
  • Tilray to Canndoc in Israel, 250 kilograms in January 2020 as part of a “2.5-tonne (metric ton) strategic partnership agreement.” Alon Granot, CEO of Israel-based Canndoc, confirmed to MJBizDaily via email that Canndoc’s import from Portugal was cultivated in Portugal under EU-Good Manufacturing Practice.
  • Emmac to Bazelet Group in Israel, 400 kilograms in February 2020. Antonio Costanzo, CEO of Emmac, told MJBizDaily that the company “has not imported any product to Portugal” and that the cannabis it exported to Israel was “grown and harvested at our facility, Terra Verde” which is in Portugal.

Uruguayan producer Fotmer has no EU-GMP certification, according to the publicly available official EudraGMDP database of the European Union, which might limit the possibility of the flower being sold unprocessed to patients in countries such as Germany.

Alfredo Pascual can be reached at [email protected]

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