New cannabis markets are opening at a fast clip in the United States, with launches of New York and Connecticut bookending the 2022-2023 calendar flip, and Maryland and Missouri poised to go online later this year. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is eying recreational. But international cannabis markets are picking up speed, too, which means growers are gaining ground in more countries than ever, on more continents than ever, from South America to Africa to Asia.
While cannabis cultivation has been legal in Colombia since 2017, a number of exciting developments unfurled in 2022 that hint at what tomorrow’s global weed landscape might look like. Humboldt Seed Company (HSC) recently partnered with Colombia’s Natureceuticals RX and Federico Cock to register a variety of cannabis strains with the Colombian Agricultural Institute. It’s a long play that eventually will give HSC a head start on meeting Colombia’s robust genetics requirements for cultivators, as well as setting precedent for work with international policymakers.
Also of note is that Colombian medical cannabis enterprise Clever Leaves is the first such business in South America to get the European Union’s stamp of approval to export cannabis as a pharmaceutical product. Combined with the inexpensive cultivation conditions prevalent in Colombia, that certification could hint at future price competition when international trade of cannabis isn’t so heavily restricted.
With Colombia itself, the medical market continues to expand—for example, Canada’s Khiron Life Sciences Group kicked off 2023 as the winner of the first contract with Colombian insurance giant Capital Salud EPS to dispense medical cannabis products. However, because Colombia has not yet legalized recreational use, cultivators have extra incentive to pursue opportunities in the export market.
Because international exports are legal in Colombia, more and more multinational organizations (MNOs) will want to develop a presence in “the gateway to South America” before the competition. Just look at Flora Growth Corp., another Canadian-based enterprise with operations in Colombia, announcing in October, 2022 that it would acquire German MNO Franchise Global Health as conversations about German rec legalization intensify. That deal gives Flora access to 41 strains already approved by the Colombian Agricultural Institute, as well as ownership of hundreds of strains at the first official seed bank in Denmark.
Costa Rica legalized medical cannabis early in 2022 with Expediente 21.388, and President Rodrigo Chaves campaigned on legalizing recreational—though there is some popular and congressional opposition to his proposed measure No. 23383. The national cannabis industry is still very much in its nascent stages. It was only in November, 2022 that Minister of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), Víctor Julio Carvajal Porras signed off on the first legal hemp plantation in Costa Rica.
That said, Costa Rica seems to be taking its cannabis sector in a different direction than Colombia. Exports are certainly top of mind for many of the officials involved in legalization efforts in Costa Rica. Indeed, Minister Victor Carvajal told The Tico Times that “the development of responsible and efficient agricultural activities with significant agro-export potential” is “extremely important” to the MAG. But other stakeholders are already anticipating that Costa Rica’s robust tourism economy will benefit from courting cannabis-curious travelers.
If recreational cannabis is indeed legalized as President Chaves hopes, it would free the Costa Rican Tourism Institute to advertise the country as an international cannabis destination—a properly sanctioned, South American Amsterdam or Jamaica, if you will. This would be of a piece with Costa Rica’s burgeoning reputation as a destination for international psychedelics retreats, where tourists can trip on psilocybin, ayahuasca and other entheogens in a supervised, often luxurious setting.
South Africa, like its contemporaries in Colombia and Costa Rica, is eager to expand its national cannabis sector in hopes of winning a share of the European exports market. The hitch, however, is that cultivation for exports is a game best played at scale. The South African cultivator SafriCanna, for example, has already sold its entire 2023 output and is expanding its facilities in anticipation of bigger demand in 2024.
Some stakeholders and entrepreneurs are concerned that this dynamic shuts out many of the smaller growers who have cropped up in the legal gray area surrounding South African cannabis. Small-scale cultivators cannot afford $40 million buildouts like SafriCanna’s, or to jump through the hoops required to become EU-certified for pharmaceutical exports.
Still, the industry remains optimistic with promising projections and good energy around events like the South Africa Cannabis Expo—and more and more cultivators are sure to start and expand operations in hopes of cashing in on a fast-growing sector.
Thailand legalized cannabis cultivation and recreational consumption in June of 2022 after legalizing medical cannabis in 2018, and the market has already frothed into a green rush. Unlike Colombia, which is considering exports as a way to generate revenue until a local recreational market opens, things have gone somewhat in the reverse in the race to meet consumer demand from Thai citizens and tourists alike. Indeed, Thailand is already a glimpse of what Costa Rica could look forward to if it decides to promote itself as a pot-friendly travel destination.
Reuters reported soon after recreational legalization that already 100,000 would-be cultivators had applied to grow with PlookGanja, an app released by the Thai government. Companies from energy conglomerates to marketing firms and beverage businesses are investing quickly and rolling out a range of cannabis-infused products. International companies have gotten a jump on Thailand’s emerging market, too. California-based cannabis genetics giant Cookies, for example, partnered with cannabis supply chain experts Natura ahead of its January 21, 2023 dispensary opening to ensure the availability of Cookies’ renowned varietals.
The Future of Global Cannabis
So where is global cannabis headed next? The US Virgin Islands legalized cannabis on January 18, 2022. As the footprint of legal cannabis continues to extend beyond North America into the Carribean, South America, Asia, Africa and beyond, it’s only going to further incentivize cultivators and international cannabis companies to go global, too.
GMP, GPP and GACP
To facilitate that international expansion, we’ll certainly start to see more unified Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standards, Good Production Practices (GPP) and Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) patterned on those required of the Canadian Licensed Producers.
Similar to the way emerging markets in the United States follow the lead of more established markets in establishing their compliance metrics, an increasing number of international cannabis companies and regulatory bodies will look to Canada for GMP, GPP and GACP standards to help cultivators find their way forward—and find as large a market as possible worldwide.