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Legal use of marijuana, cannabis or hemp in Latin America

Legal use of marijuana, cannabis or hemp in Latin America

Growing marijuana, cannabis or hemp has always been a controversial topic, especially when it comes to its legalization, either for recreational purposes or, as in most cases, for medicinal use.

Some say that the marijuana plant alone doesn’t represent a threat to humans, however, everything depends on the purposes for which it is grown and the use it is given to it.

While in some regions of the world, such as Europe and North America, measures have already been implemented to allow its legalization for recreational purposes, beyond medicinal use, in Latin America small steps are still being taken. And for that reason, we will talk about the legal cultivation of marijuana or hemp in Latin America in this article.

Latin America, a pioneer in legalizing marijuana

Although many don’t know it, a Latin American country was the pioneer worldwide in legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. We are talking about Uruguay that legalized the consumption of marijuana nationwide in 2013. In this country, people can find the product in pharmacies and buy up to 40 grams a month.

Two companies (Symbiosis and Iccorp) are state-licensed and authorized to grow hemp in the country for commercial purposes. The country’s residents can manage their crops for personal use, where they can grow up to 480 grams per person per year, however, they cannot commercialize them in laboratories.

The other country that can carry out the legal cultivation of cannabis in Latin America is Mexico, which approved its legalization for recreational use in June 2021, leaving its prohibition of recreational use null and void. In Mexico, people may plant, collect, transport, and distribute hemp, if it’s for personal use, that is, it cannot be commercialized.

Legal use of cannabis in LATAM. Photo by Add Weed on Unsplash

Legal use of cannabis in LATAM. Photo by Add Weed on Unsplash


Marijuana cultivation for medicinal purposes only

By 2016, Colombia took the step towards the legalization of medical marijuana, but not until November 2020 was the possibility of legalizing it for recreational uses discussed. However, the House of Representatives saved the project and so far there has been no further news on the matter.

In Argentina, although in 2017 a law had already been passed to use marijuana medicinally, in November 2020 a new regulation was approved that allows people, who have some ailment and need to use marijuana to complement treatment, to grow it at home without penalty. Also, the State may provide marijuana free of charge to these patients.

Thanks to the new regulation, public and private companies will be able to produce some derivatives such as hemp oil, while at the same time new scientific research will be promoted to demonstrate that the use of marijuana is beneficial and safe for health.

For its part, Ecuador joined in September 2019 other countries that had already legalized marijuana for medicinal use, while in other regions such as Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Chile (one of the largest cannabis producers in the region) there’s also limited authorization to use marijuana for recreational purposes.

In the specific case of Ecuador, the nation has large extensions of land dedicated to planting flowers such as roses, where marijuana is also currently being cultivated.

CannAndes is a company that today occupies one hectare of the extensive plantation of the nine hectares that the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock authorized the firm. To learn more about this initiative and why the country is recognized for having the first legal cannabis cultivation farm in the South American region, click here.

In Panama, the National Assembly passed a law in August 2021 regulating the medicinal and therapeutic use of marijuana and its derivatives. Only the Ministry of Health will have the power to issue licenses for its importation, acquisition, and commercialization, thus prohibiting the sale within the region of products derived from medicinal hemp, either online or at home.

Many countries in the region are in the process of developing their legal regulations and the measures they plan to take in the future, while the scope for improvement continues to expand.

Illegal marijuana cultivation

Although the legal cultivation of marijuana in Latin America has been gaining ground, especially for its medicinal use, it’s still considered illegal in other countries of the region. In countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Bolivia, El Salvador, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras its consumption is prohibited.

In the case of Costa Rica, not only is it a legally prohibited substance, but also beyond being considered a crime, cannabis is seen as a public health problem that should be addressed through rehabilitation and treatment methods that help prevent people from addiction.

According to information published on the website of CNN en español in Brazil, the Drug Law punishes the possession and consumption of drugs, so discussions from the Supreme Court have been held since 2015 to decriminalize their possession and personal consumption, however, there has been no major progress.

It’s worth mentioning that, although cannabis, hemp, or medical marijuana is not legal in the Carioca region, cannabis sativa was included in 2017 in the official list of medicines by the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), claiming that the substances in the plant are authorized, but the plant as such is not.


Marijuana cultivation for medicinal purposes. Photo by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash

Marijuana cultivation for medicinal purposes. Photo by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash


How is cannabis viewed in North American and European countries?

Here the perspective on cannabis is a little different, since in the United States only more than a dozen states allow its recreational use, while it is legal for medicinal use in almost 30 states.

For example, a person over the age of 21 can legally purchase medical marijuana in states such as Washington, Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon, while recreational marijuana can be purchased in states such as Illinois, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, and New Jersey.

Canada was the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to legalize cannabis for personal recreational use. So, in that country persons of legal age may purchase and share no more than 30 grams of this product in public.

The legislation allows consumers to plant up to four marijuana plants in their homes and prepare foods that contain it (if it’s for personal consumption).

While Canadians can plant at home, they can also purchase marijuana through retailers that are properly regulated and approved with a federal license, so not just anyone can sell it.

In the case of European countries such as Portugal, the scenario is very different, since this country not only allows the use of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes but also has completely decriminalized the possession of all other drugs, transforming the nation’s drug management policy.

In other countries such as Germany, Jamaica, and Ireland, its use is allowed for medicinal purposes, while in Australia companies can apply for licenses to promote scientific research on the use of cannabis, while they can also grow and manufacture products to help with medical treatments for patients in need.

Colombia as a case study in marijuana cultivation

Although the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes is still under discussion in the country, the cultivation of the plant is advancing at a fast pace. Some of the reasons behind it are the attractive climatic conditions and the qualities of the land in the area, especially for foreign companies that are eager to find other countries where they can grow their plants at a lower price and more easily, thus increasing their production levels.

Colombia is currently one of the main producers and exporters of marijuana in the world because its climate allows crops to receive at least 12 continuous hours of sunshine throughout the year, which guarantees excellent quality results.

In addition to this, the land, and the rural agricultural labor force (which is used for flower harvesting) are cheaper, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that foreign companies have seen in this country a key point to boost their medical cannabis production operations.

According to information published on the website Expansión, Mat Youkee, editor of the Colombia Cannabis Investor newsletter, points out that it costs Colombian growers much less to produce marijuana than their counterparts in North America and Europe, where producers have to invest in air-conditioned greenhouses to combat the harsh winters.

Colombians can produce a gram of dried flower for between US$0.50 and US$0.80 (0.44 and 0.71 euros), something that costs at least US $2.00 in Canada.

Among the foreign companies (from North America and Canada) that have entered Colombia to grow cannabis are: Canopy Growth, Khiron Life Sciences, Northern Swan, and Pharma Cielo. For more information on these companies, click here.

For their part, the Colombian companies that are making their mark in the legal marijuana cultivation scenario are Flora Growth, Allied Corp, Clever Leaves, One World Pharma, Khiron, Avicanna, and Pharma Cielo Colombia Holdings. For more information click here.


Marijuana cultivation. Photo by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash

Marijuana cultivation. Photo by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash


Possible disadvantages of legal marijuana cultivation in Latin America

Neglect of traditional crops to prioritize marijuana cultivation

While cannabis cultivation may turn Colombia into the supplier of 40% of the world’s marijuana, this may have some consequences. For example, many farmers may neglect other traditional crops such as coffee, bananas, or cut flowers, which are highly important to the country’s economy, to focus exclusively on marijuana.

Given this possibility, industry experts suggest proceeding cautiously and, above all, to promote the legal cultivation of marijuana without neglecting traditional crops.

They also highlight the importance of not only seeing cannabis as one of the fastest-growing crops, which can generate a lot of profits but also of doing everything possible to maintain good agricultural practices such as pest control in cannabis crops, where having qualified and specialized workers is a priority, to guarantee high levels of production and quality.

Safety in legal marijuana cultivation

Safety is another major challenge in Colombia, basically because of the country’s history with drugs. While Colombia is a much safer country today, some fear that the lucrative nature of the industry will attract the attention of criminal groups seeking to control the trade, as is the case with cocaine.

In response to this, some companies such as Khiron Life Sciences transport the product by helicopter to avoid traveling on roads where they may encounter these criminal groups.

Certainly, the legal cultivation of cannabis in Latin America, especially in Colombia, is an example of the wave of foreign investment that is yet to come and the precautionary measures that must be taken.

It is an industry that is expected to continue to grow thanks to the acceptance it has had in a few years in many countries in Latin America, Europe, and North America. Estimates for the coming years seem to be positive.

Projections for the legal sale of marijuana

Colombia is one of the leading countries in cannabis production, so it’s estimated that by 2022, the potential foreign exchange income from medical cannabis exports will be approximately 245 million dollars a year and 8 billion dollars by 2032, according to a report by the consulting firm PxC Colombia.

This represents an excellent opportunity to generate more jobs in the agricultural sector, since according to Fedesarrollo, by 2030 an average of more than 26,000 workers will be needed to take care of the hectares of cannabis cultivated. This is a good example of the progress made in the legal cultivation of cannabis in Latin America.

In the case of Mexico, if the regulation of cannabis cultivation is approved entirely, that is, for all its uses, it’s estimated that the value of the national medical cannabis market will reach 5 billion dollars in the first year.

For more information on this and other regions of Latin America, please review the information published on the website Industria Cannabis.

In the United States, the medical and recreational cannabis industry is expected to register about 19 billion dollars this year in sales alone. It’s also estimated that the growth of the crop will reach 24 billion by the end of 2021, while by 2025 it’s predicted that sales will far exceed 45 billion dollars, according to data provided by Bethany Gómez, CEO of Brightfield Group, market analysis and research company that specializes in the cannabis industry, through CNN en español.

Meanwhile, Expansión indicates that according to Grand View Research, a California consulting firm, the global legal cannabis market is expected to grow by 24% annually over the next six years, from the current $13.8 billion to $66 billion by the end of 2025.

However, carrying out the legal cultivation of marijuana in Latin America in an industrial way is a challenge, because, despite its growing popularity, where even cannabis fairs are held, some still believe, perhaps due to ignorance, that it’s something illegal that shouldn’t be put into practice.

It’s important to be informed on the subject to clarify some of the most frequent doubts that allow us to understand what cannabis is used for and what are some of its multiple applications. To do so, we recommend reading our article on hemp production.


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