Marijuana Business Magazine September 2019

Marijuana Business Magazine | September 2019 44 L atin America is often perceived as the region that will ship cheap cannabis to countries around the world. That’s not surprising, consider- ing that many articles about the area focus on its excellent climatic condi- tions and cheap production costs. But a closer look at how medical cannabis programs in Latin America currently operate shows that imports are actually far more common than exports from the region. Because most medical marijuana (MMJ) markets south of the United States are just getting started, they often depend on imports from more developed markets, contradicting (at least temporarily) the theory of Latin America being a low-cost production hub for export purposes. A Puzzle of Regulations Most countries in South America have some legislation in place to allow patients access to medical marijuana, and Mexico is expected in the near future to become the third country in the world to legalize adult-use cannabis. But the region can’t be seen as a bloc, because each country has its own set of rules, implementation style and speed. As of mid-2019, most of the countries with a medical cannabis program still have no domestic production for commercial purposes and instead allow access under restrictive schemes that favor imported products. An analysis of the region’s coun- tries with medical cannabis legisla- tion proves the point: Argentina: After legalizing medical cannabis in March 2017, Argentina regulated the law with a decree a few months later. The legislation allowed two government agencies to cultivate and manufacture cannabis, but so far, that hasn’t happened. And while a handful of provinces are starting to allow domestic cultivation, no nation- ally manufactured products were available as of July 2019. In the meantime, the country’s cannabis industry depends on imports, with most patients accessing marijuana through case- by-case authorizations to import nonregistered products. Meanwhile, a study measuring the effects of cannabis oil on children with epilepsy is currently being conducted at a public pediatric hos- pital using oil donated by Canadian licensed producer Aphria. Brazil: This South American giant is the clearest example of why Latin America is currently a net importer. The country has had a medical cannabis program since 2014, allow- ing thousands of patients to access imported, nonregistered products with a prescription and federal indi- vidual authorization. Domestic cultivation for commercial purposes still isn’t allowed, but ANVISA, the national medicines regulator, recently proposed two resolutions that would allow cannabis cultivation in Brazil and the registration of cannabis products before completed clinical trials. But even after those resolutions are approved, imports of nonregistered products could continue. Additionally, companies aiming to be the first ones to get products registered in the Brazil- ian market would benefit from getting approval for imported medicines before they obtain a license to cultivate, harvest and manufacture in Brazil. Chile: One domestically produced product has obtained a temporary authorization to be commercialized. However, most access to cannabis seems to be through home growing or not-for-profit collectives. Chile has not authorized any cannabis exports so far, but the country did allow an exceptional authorization to import oil from Tilray in Canada. According to the Chilean National Institute of Public Health, the 2017 authorization granted to Tilray was a one-time action and limited in volume and time frame. However, not all the units were sold within the allowed period, so the remainder had to be destroyed. Latin America Is Currently a Net Importer of Cannabis—Not an Exporter Trends & Hot Topics | Alfredo Pascual