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The New Legal Global Cannabis Supply Chain

Global Cannabis Now
PHOTO NASA/Reto Stöckli

Economics

The New Legal Global Cannabis Supply Chain

Cannabis has become a global industry, but where is commercial cannabis going and where is it coming from? And how is this likely to change as the international atmosphere further liberalizes?

Now that Canada has joined Uruguay as the only two countries in the world with federal adult-use cannabis legalization, the international picture for the global cannabis market has become more interesting.

Obviously, moving cannabis legally around the world is still limited by legal restrictions — and the fact that these increasingly vary from country to country further complicates things. Several countries around the world now are legally exporting cannabis for the above-board commercial market — and several more have burgeoning industries anxiously waiting for approval to begin exports.

The uneven global liberalization of the legal environment for cannabis continues to bottleneck expansion of international trade in this emerging hot commodity. The picture is largely divided between some fairly predictable countries that now dominate exports, and aspiring upstarts hoping to break into the market.

Canada & Netherlands Lead Cannabis Exporting Efforts 

Europe is the principal market for foreign-produced cannabis, and one of the biggest destinations is Germany, which has a nascent medical marijuana program, but no mechanism for domestic production. Extremely limited provisions for personal cultivation were just allowed by the courts in Germany two years ago.

To meet patient demand, Germany has been turning to two countries which are practically synonymous with cannabis in the public mind. In the first half of 2018, Germany imported 1.62 metric tons (1.8 tons) of cannabis, according to Berlin-based medical trade journal Apotheke Adhoc. Some 60 percent of those imports came from Canada, with the remainder coming from the Netherlands.

Marijuana Business Daily reports that Ontario-based Canopy Growth, one of Canada’s leading licensed producers, sold an average of 70.5 kilograms per month to German firms during the first half of the year, at an average price of $13.50 per gram.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands is seeking to increase its share, Dutch cabinet sources have told local media. Medical marijuana is now grown under license by a Dutch government agency, the Office of Medicinal Cannabis, and is currently exported to Italy and Finland, as well as Germany.

The Netherlands, however, is known for frequently cracking down on large cultivators. Under the “Dutch model,” cannabis is decriminalized, and the penalties that are technically on the books for possession or cultivation within accepted limits are simply not enforced.

This could be changing soon, however. The Dutch parliament is currently considering a measure that would permit cultivation for the recreational market under municipal license and regulation. Under the plan, 10 Dutch cities would be able to legally produce and sell cannabis for four years. The proposal only concerns meeting domestic demand, but could be a step toward eventually further opening up the field for export producers.

Other European countries may be moving in this direction. A law passed by the Danish parliament last December allows licensed companies to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes during a four-year trial period. Industry reaction was swift, with exports throughout the European Union foreseen. Canadian producers Canopy Growth and Aurora both announced joint ventures with Danish firms to cultivate cannabis for the European medical market in the town of Odense, heretofore a center of greenhouse tomato production.

A modest step, at least, toward Canadian cannabis exports to the United States was taken in September when the U.S. federal government gave British Columbia’s Tilray approval to ship cannabis to California for scientific research — specifically to UC San Diego’s newly established Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. The value of the sale was so small that Tilray declined to disclose it. But the New York Times reported that the news still sent Tilray’s stock price up by 78 percent, adding billions to its value, if briefly.

As Investors Business Daily recalls, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2016 permitted universities and companies to produce cannabis for research purposes. Prior to that, the DEA only allowed such research at one laboratory, under the agency’s strict control at the University of Mississippi.

The Industry Upstarts: Israel, Colombia, Uruguay & Jamaica

Enterprises in other countries around the world are eager to break into the global trade. Ontario’s Cronos Group says it is investing tens of millions of dollars in a cannabis cultivation project at Kibbutz Gan Shmuel in northern Israel, for export to the German market. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported in July that the U.S. company Giving Tree (which operates a dispensary in Phoenix) is investing in another kibbutz, while an unnamed Dutch company investing into a local farm to produce cannabis for export to Germany.

But these ambitious plans for an Israeli industry have been tempered by the slow pace of regulatory liberalization in the country.

Additionally, Uruguay-based ICC Labs (the company formerly known as International Cannabis Corp) is planning to produce medical cannabis oil for export to Canada and Mexico, as well as for the domestic market, Reuters reported last year.

Colombia also has been planning for global exports, as the Washington Post reported in March. The government started handing out the first export licenses last September and has approved 33 companies so far. Licensed producers such as Canadian-owned PharmaCielo are now raising test crops for upcoming product lines.

Last, but certainly not least, things are rapidly opening up in Jamaica, where a new law allows export for the medical marketGlobal Trade reports that the country’s leaders and agriculturalists hope cannabis will become “a major industrial enterprise in Jamaica.”

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