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As Uruguay’s Pot Industry Struggles with the Details, Growers Move On to Hemp

Maureen Meehan

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Legal pot in Uruguay got off to an international bang in December 2013 when it became the first country in the world to legalize production, distribution, sale and consumption of the plant.

Former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, whose administration also legalized gay marriage and abortion during his term (2010-2015), pitched the pot legalization law as a way to fight drug gangs.

As these several years have passed, regulations and restrictions have hamstrung the legalization project.

The government’s low price cap and strict production limits, is pushing less regulated hemp to the center stage among cultivators.

And that’s not a bad idea, according to Guillermo Delmonte, CEO of International Cannabis Corp., as hemp is expected to become a much larger market than cannabis.

“Recreational cannabis is regulated by the government and we sell what the government lets us sell,” said Delmonte, whose company is one of two legally growing pot for the Uruguayan government.

“In the hemp market we can produce all we can to meet demand.”

The global market for hemp is projected to grow well beyond its current $1 billion as more countries legalize production, according to Medical Marijuana Inc., a publicly-listed marijuana grower in California.

For a company like International Cannabis, that potential growth implies expanding beyond Uruguay. Even though one in five people say they’ve used marijuana, Uruguay’s population is only 3.3 million.

According to the Denver Post, International Cannabis is already in advanced talks with five European and South American pharmaceutical and food companies to supply additives like hemp oil and hemp-based extracts for medical products.

What people expected to happen in Uruguay when weed was legalized has not happened… Uruguay is not going to be the Amsterdam of the south. For starters, buying weed there is not easy. Only 50 of the country’s 1,200 pharmacies have signed up to sell cannabis products.

Non-citizens can only buy if they have resided legally in the country for at least two years. Pre-registered consumers can buy a max of 10 grams per week, but they’re cut off at 40 grams per month, according to El Espectador.

Meanwhile, as the legal weed industry works out its kinks, Uruguayan growers are preparing to cash in on pot’s billion-dollar, globally traded cousin: hemp.

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