Latin America and the risk of becoming the world's "cannabis barn"

Eight years ago, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize cannabis for all its uses. Over time, the Charrúa lands were filled with crops and the country became a pioneer in the international trade of the plant.

However, today it is at risk of becoming the "world's cannabis granary" and simply being a supplier of raw materials.

Although the country has already exported to Switzerland around US $ 104 thousand of dried hemp flowers, with a THC percentage lower than 1%, during the past year and there are also established laboratories that sell the medicinal oil in pharmacies, something unusual has happened: the only two companies authorized to market cannabis oil do not use Uruguayan flowers or extractions. They are Medic Plast and Caillon & Hamonet SACI.

As THC was able to confirm, the medicinal oil that is bought in Uruguayan pharmacies imports the raw material from Switzerland. Precisely, the same country that is the main buyer of flowers from Uruguay.

Marco Algorta, President of the Uruguayan Chamber of Medicinal Cannabis Companies, explains that the procedure for taking the products to pharmacies is "very expensive and difficult."

Algorta says that the main barrier is the lack of access to the international certifications that Switzerland has, but Uruguay does not.

The domain of certifications
To commercialize cannabis oil, the product must have the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certification, which is mainly granted by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and other entities in charge of inspecting the products.

In addition, for a company to be able to market a product in Uruguay, local procedures such as the granting of the license of the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) and the approval of the Ministry of Public Health are necessary. However, the main barrier is international certification.

The CPlant company was the first in Uruguay to export Uruguayan hemp. The transaction was for 524 kilos of dried flowers, at a value of US $ 200 per kilo.

Guido Husni, one of the founders of the company, confirms what was expressed by Algorta: "To make the biomass extract needed for CBD oil many hectares and a lot of work are needed" to obtain a raw material that must then have all the corresponding approvals of the Uruguayan State.

"Being disruptive, incipient and highly complex products for the global regulatory framework, exports require meeting international requirements accepted by the United Nations," adds Lucas Crivilone, CEO of CPlant, who were the first to sell non-psychoactive cannabis inflorescences to Switzerland, adding that more than 9,000 kilos have been exported to date.

On the other hand, the business sector says that the companies UruguayCan and Selenio Nueve are the main producers of biomass with a high content of CBD. However, their product is not yet available to buy in Uruguayan stores.

Who are the licensed companies
Currently, there are only three drug options available to obtain in pharmacies in the neighboring country: Epicfractán, in its two versions of 2% and 5% CBD, and Xalex 10, which has a 10% CBD concentrate.

Both products belong to the Medic Plast laboratory, a daughter company of Ramm Pharma, of Canadian capital and which has been based in Uruguay for 33 years.

In 2017, Medic Plast was the first in the world to register the first CBD-based product when it registered Epifratan, which is applied to people with refractory epilepsy.

Medic Plast is licensed by the IRCCA for the industrialization of products for human and veterinary use, which has been periodically renewed for four years.

"Unfortunately, we cannot use national raw material because there is no semi-isolated CBD that has GMP in Uruguay or Latin America, or in the United States," Jack Brunett, Executive Director of Ramm Pharma, explains to THC.

"All the products in their batches that we import are analyzed by the Ministry of Health before we can take possession and then work on it to sell it to the general public," Brunett details.

For that reason, the extraction and certification process for Medic Plast must be carried out in Switzerland where they have a company that is dedicated to importing under all the corresponding regulations.

On the other hand, Dr. Chiu Hsin Tai Yang is Medic Plast's medical cannabis advisor. In dialogue with THC, the specialist reveals that, as they first registered the 2% Epifratan, six months later the 5% and, in 2019, the 10%, "the qualifications continue because they have the experience to test and verify the effectiveness ”.

Tai Yang says that every month they generate "safe potholes" of oil that are then controlled by the Uruguayan Ministry of Health to look for the stability, control tests and efficacy of the finished product, something that an oil not produced in the laboratory will be able to bestow.

Anyway, although accessibility is still the problem, Medic Plast assures that they have the best purchase price.

“We have the cheapest price in the world because if you compare with the United States, a patient must spend $ 32,000 to use CBD per year; while ours cost 100 dollars per month, that is, 1,200 dollars a year (around 52,800 Uruguayan pesos),” says Chiu Hsin Tai Yang.

Although Uruguay started the path of comprehensive cannabis regulation worldwide and was the first country to activate industrialization, today it runs a risk that could affect an entire continent: that the plant becomes another commodity, like other crops such as soybeans or wheat.


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