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Expectations that Latin America would become a significant exporter of cannabis for medical and scientific use have not yet materialized, with total export revenue from the continent estimated to be less than $15 million.
Experts say 2021 will be a key year to demonstrate whether the region can become a global supplier of the medicine.
To date, Uruguay and Colombia are the only two Latin American nations that have exported meaningful quantities of medical cannabis.
But even those shipments have fallen far short of expectations.
For example, Uruguayan cannabis export revenue – which so far totals about $9.5 million – is minuscule compared with the $1 billion-per-year potential some industry players there have been touting, based on a report by Uruguay XXI, the nation’s investment promotion agency.
Likewise in Colombia, a report written in 2019 by two former ministers raised the specter of cannabis exports surpassing those of petroleum, equivalent to about $17 billion.
But Colombia’s accumulated exports of cannabis products totaled $4.1 million as of August 2020, according to a presentation by ProColombia President Flavia Santoro Trujillo during an event for Asocolcanna, Colombia’s leading medical marijuana trade association.
ProColombia is a government agency in charge of promoting Colombian nontraditional exports.
The export data disclosed by ProColombia doesn’t include a recent export of 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of CBD that PharmaCielo sent to the United Kingdom, as well as any other exports that could have happened after August 2020.
The Uruguay number comes from a Marijuana Business Daily analysis of official customs data.
Exporting flower from Colombia is not allowed for commercial medical purposes.
Such exports are permitted from Uruguay, however, and companies there have sought to capitalize on that.
Almost all the Uruguayan export revenue comes from shipments of flower, both psychoactive and nonpsychoactive, totaling $7.2 million and $2 million, respectively.
About two-thirds of the flower export revenue was generated in 2020 and the rest in 2019.
Uruguayan licensed producer Fotmer Life Sciences accounted for all the exports of the THC-rich flower, which went to different countries.
By contrast, about 10 Uruguayan companies exported hemp flower, which all went to Switzerland.
In addition, Toronto-headquartered Ramm Pharma manufactures its CBD extract Epifractan in Uruguay both for the local medical market and the wider regional market.
The company has exported more than $200,000 of the product to Argentina, Brazil and Peru, mostly during 2020.
In most cases, the product goes to individual patients accessing cannabis through compassionate-use schemes.
Although Uruguay has so far generated more export revenue than Colombia, the latter has been able to ship to more countries.
Uruguayan exports have reached Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Israel, Peru, Portugal, Switzerland and the United States.
In Colombia, a single company – Clever Leaves – has managed to export to 14 countries.
Andres Fajardo, CEO of Clever Leaves, told MJBizDaily that this demonstrates the company “knows how to navigate the regulatory framework in the international arena, with products that have proven to be of the highest quality, as specified by clients around the world.”
“We foresee the year 2021 as our window of opportunity to substantially increase our sales in the countries where our products have been sent, as well as to new jurisdictions where we plan to open market thanks to both our commercial efforts and new regulations allowing sales,” Fajardo said.
Alfredo Pascual can be reached at [email protected]