BUSINESS

Uruguay's Idea To Import Canadian Weed Probably Just A Pipe Dream

03/20/2014 12:07 EDT
PABLO PORCIUNCULA via Getty Images
People take part in a demo for the legalization of marijuana in front of the Legislative Palace in Montevideo, on December 10, 2013, as the Senate discuss a law on the legalization of marijuana's cultivation and consumption. Uruguays parliament is to vote Tuesday a project that would make the country the first to legalize marijuana, an experiment that seeks to confront drug trafficking. The initiative launched by 78-year-old Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, a former revolutionary leader, would enable the production, distribution and sale of cannabis, self-cultivation and consumer clubs, all under state control. AFP PHOTO/ Pablo PORCIUNCULA (Photo credit should read PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)

Uruguay’s government is about to start selling marijuana as a source of revenue, and some officials are hoping Canada’s medical marijuana producers will be able to provide them with a supply — because that’s “where the best quality is.”

But that could prove difficult, as Canada’s medical marijuana users face a possible shortage themselves when a new medical pot regime kicks in this April.

As part of a raft of revolutionary reforms to the country’s marijuana laws, the Uruguayan government is planning to start growing and selling its own marijuana, as a source of revenue. And as of last December, Uruguayan households can grow up to six plants with an annual harvest of up to 480 grams.

But officials are worried the government won’t be able to develop the large-scale cultivation operations in time for the rollout of its new marijuana business, and they hope Canada will be able to fill the gap.

To start with, we will have to buy cannabis,” said Lucia Topolansky, a Ururgayan senator and wife of President Jose Mujica, as quoted at GlobalPost.

“I think that we’re going to buy it from Canada, because that’s where the best quality is.”

But Canada’s marijuana laws are also undergoing reform, and in a way that some critics and medical pot patients say is a step backward.

Under rules coming into force next month, medical marijuana patients will no longer be able to grow their own weed, nor buy it from small-scale growers licenced by Health Canada. Patients with a pot prescription will be able to buy weed from a licenced, large-scale manufacturer.

Many patients who grow their own weed say they will see costs skyrocket if they have to buy it at retail prices (Health Canada's own projections back up that assertion), and some say they will no longer be able to afford marijuana in the quantities they’ve had it prescribed.

But so far, Health Canada has licenced only 10 manufacturers to grow weed for the program, and that has some patients worried about a potential shortage.

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According to the CBC, there have been 400 applications made to the program, but most don’t have the financial resources to qualify.

There are also questions of legality surrounding any efforts to export marijuana to Uruguay. Foreign trade of the herb is technically possible. For instance, licenced grower Bedrocan Canada is buying its initial supply from its Dutch parent company.

But according to legal advice given to GlobalPost, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) would also have to allow the trade to take place, and it strictly limits how much marijuana it allows to travel between countries.

The INCB recently criticized Uruguay, as well as other jurisdictions moving to legalize pot, such as Colorado and Washington, saying marijuana poses a “very grave danger to public health.”

Finally, there is the question of economic feasibility. Uruguay is planning to sell marijuana at $1 per gram, far below the retail prices medical marijuana companies in Canada are planning to sell it at, about $4 to $12 per gram.

And given Uruguay’s low disposable income and the costs incurred in shipping, it probably wouldn’t make sense to export there, Steve Thomas of the Whistler Medical Marijuana Co. told GlobalPost.

The news comes a few months after an apparently erroneous news story suggested Canada was negotiating to import marijuana from Uruguay. Health Canada denied the report, saying it has no intention of encouraging imports of weed from the Latin American country.