The future of the cannabis industry in Latin America is likely to include an increasing footprint of cultivation – from CBD-rich hemp to medical and recreational high-THC cannabis strains. With countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Chile also having some regulatory infrastructure in place, they will be seen as the likely shining stars in the overall market. These potential leaders, however, will face many challenges unique to each country as well as the Latin American market as a whole.
Product availability is expected to remain limited, with high-THC products continuing to be imported on a patient by patient basis as only products with less than 1% THC are available in the retail market and without a prescription. The opening of the retail market to products with less than 1% THC has in effect created opportunities for the retail sales of CBD products, and several licenses for the commercialization of such products, ranging from tinctures to capsules to topicals, have been granted and are awaiting import approval. As such, patients needing medications with higher levels of THC will continue to have only a medium level of access to products, which require a recommendation from a doctor for a specific product and dosage based on the patient’s medical condition.
Organizations such as the ANICANN (Mexican Cannabis Industry Association) and the Por Grace Foundation provide information and guidance to patients that require medical cannabis treatments. However, medical marijuana products are expected to remain accessible only for upper-income segments of the population, who can afford imported products with unit prices that are subject to exchange rate fluctuations.
The current administration has expressed favorable views towards the legalization of recreational cannabis. However, the federal government’s first priority is likely to be the regulation of distribution of medical cannabis products. The Supreme Court’s decision overruling the prohibition on cannabis ownership and consumption in 2018 was an important first step toward recreational legalization. A full regulatory framework is expected in late 2019, which may open up additional commercial opportunities in the country.
There could be significant growth opportunities in Colombia for companies looking to cultivate cannabis and export from Colombia. In 2018, Colombia received a production quota of 40.5 tons from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), nearly half of the total of 91.9 tons authorized globally. In addition to the country’s favorable weather and soil, its proximity to the equator allows for nearly 12 hours of sunlight all year.
Companies can take advantage of these good growing conditions to cultivate cannabis in Colombia, process it into oils or topicals, and export the finished products to countries with more robust cannabis and CBD product markets in Latin America, North America, and Europe. In February 2019, Clever Leaves (Ecomedics SAS) received the first approval – from both Colombia and Canada – to export cannabis from Colombia to Canada. In August 2019, Pharma Cielo completed its first export to Europe, shipping product to Creso Phama in Switzerland. Though strict testing requirements and third-party quality assurance will be necessary to build trust from international consumers, lower cultivation and production costs in Colombia could enable companies to price these products quite competitively in other markets.