As some of you may be aware, back in 2013, Uruguay became the first country to take steps towards legalizing marijuana nationwide. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-uruguay-marijuana-vote-idUSBRE9BA01520131211)
At the time, the bold steps taken by this small South American nation were the cause of much international fanfare. The idea behind legalization, championed by the government of former president Jose Mujica, was to curb street drug traffickers while regulating prices and production. While this was great in theory, the result, perhaps unsurprisingly, was more of the same. Police are still harassing small time growers, the government body tasked with regulating marijuana is understaffed and underfunded and the permits required for legal cultivation can get caught in significant backlog. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/13/uruguay-marijuana-cannabis-market-sale-legitmacy) The sale of marijuana, though legal, is actually quite restrictive. Non-citizens must live in Uruguay for two years before being eligible to purchase marijuana. On top of that, though pharmacies are legally allowed to sell marijuana if they obtain the appropriate permits, only 50 have even bothered to do so.
While this is not ideal for recreational marijuana users and members of Uruguay’s cannabis clubs, commercial growers have found a new way to utilize (and monetize) their skills: hemp.
Because hemp is less regulated, the billion dollar per year globally traded cash crop is proving to be lucrative. (http://hightimes.com/news/as-uruguays-pot-industry-struggles-with-the-details-growers-move-on-to-hemp/)
Guillermo Delmonte, the CEO of International Cannabis Corp., one of the two suppliers of legal marijuana in Uruguay, believes that hemp could take a much larger market share than cannabis.
“Recreational cannabis is regulated by the government and we sell what the government lets us sell,” he says. “In the hemp market we can produce all we can to meet demand.” (http://hightimes.com/news/as-uruguays-pot-industry-struggles-with-the-details-growers-move-on-to-hemp/)
Uruguay is a small country with only 3.3 million residents, making one of the major benefits to hemp the increased exposure to international commerce. Currently, International Cannabis is in ongoing talks with a number of pharmaceutical corporations based elsewhere in South America or even overseas in Europe looking to import hemp oil and hemp based extracts. (http://www.denverpost.com/2016/08/22/uruguay-pursues-hemp-cannabis/)
Marijuana legalization did not work exactly as planned for Uruguay, but growers might actually be better off with hemp regardless, as the current billion-dollar global market is expected to grow significantly as more countries begin legalizing production.
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