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How Uruguay fell in love with medical cannabis

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but things are certainly starting to “light up” here in Uruguay with the realization that the medical cannabis industry has a lot to offer Uruguay and vice versa.

It all started back in December 2013 when Uruguay regulated the adult-use, medical and industrial use of cannabis. As the country’s export and investment promotion agency, Uruguay XXI, highlights, Uruguay was the first country to establish a regulatory framework for all of the plant’s functionalities. 

For a liberal country like Uruguay, in principle that made complete sense. However, it hasn’t always been that straightforward.

First of all, Uruguay is well-known for the liberalisation of adult-use cannabis. But that’s only for the local market and its economic impact has been minimal. The real money, and the real hope, was always in medical cannabis. But prejudice can be strong and scientific evidence needed to win over the hearts of many.

Then, we had bureaucracy. Lots of it. Licenses, the regulatory landscape, the many actors and exports, for example. Pretty mind-blowing processes and many regulatory gaps that were difficult to bridge. As an industry, we acted together. We formed a strong chamber, the “Cámara de Empresas de Cannabis Medicinal” (CECAM). The pioneering companies worked together and alongside government, which is not that usual and which demanded an open-mind, dialogue and compromise, all of which Uruguay excels at. We pulled together all our knowledge and experience in the belief that medicinal cannabis can be the next big export for Uruguay. Bigger than beef, some say, bringing investment, job opportunities, and giving Uruguay the chance to shine as it does with livestock, rice, citrus fruits... and soccer!

And the strategy paid off.

This week, President Lacalle Pou, formerly known for his surfing skills and now praised world-wide for his excellent management of the covid-19 pandemic, announced that he will personally push forward decrees that facilitate medical cannabis exports. And he did. We are delighted to hear this and also the upcoming focus on research and development, which is essential to remain globally competitive.

We chose to work in Uruguay because we saw the potential of working in medical cannabis in a sustainable way, while also benefiting small farmers. The country’s focus on environmental and social sustainability meant the world to us, as well as its openness to this rich and generous plant. “Uruguay Natural” is the country’s own brand, and that resonates with us: this is a country that values nature, whether it’s air, water, soil, plants or animals. Uruguay takes sustainable production seriously and Uruguayans feel very close to nature in every way.

What’s more, Uruguay gave us the economic and political stability we needed, a transparent place to work in, full of talented and committed people. Along the way, we’ve found many hurdles, but we’ve also made really good friends and learnt a ton. The recent developments show that Uruguay is ready to inject dynamism into the medical cannabis sector and smooth the way for exporters like us. We very much look forward to continuing this incredible journey, for the benefit of those that need it most.

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