Cannabis in Latam: A Regional, Collective ApproachBy Erick Ponce | Mon, 12/13/2021 - 10:46
It has come as little surprise, and without missing the not-so subtle hint of irony, that as a result of the expansion and growth of the cannabis industry across the world, Latin America is now positioned front and center in the cannabis narrative, not only as a leading region with several regulatory advances, but also as the rising star in terms of a promising and bright future. There are high expectations both for investments and, of course, revenues.
Since Uruguay’s ground-breaking legalization of cannabis in 2013, then Colombia in 2016 and Mexico in 2017, with the rest of the countries following suit, Latin America has shown its disruptive potential, both as a supplier and as a consumer market.
It is hard to miss the irony: cannabis history, under the prohibitionist approach, has without a doubt singled out very specific cultures and races in its pages; for us Latinos, cannabis has been a pivotal part of our history and culture since the colonial era and up to the very recent “war on drugs,” a movement started in the 1970s that is still evolving today.
There is, then, still a lot of uncertainty (as well as abundance of misinformation). Paired with the “Latino taboo” surrounding the plant, lack of legal and regulatory certainty in most Latin American legislation and poor implementation of public policies, Latin America faces an uphill battle.
In the face of this uncertainty, and with high expectations, several national groups and associations have been formed with the clear objective of representing the nascent cannabis industry in their countries. With an active illicit consumer market valued at over US$15 billion, Latin America does have a lot of ground yet to be covered.
One could see the appeal of forming such a common front: legitimacy and capacity to participate in the public policies surrounding cannabis, collaborating with the governments for a better, regulated, cannabis industry, aiming for socioeconomic growth and the generation of equitable opportunities.
These conversations should be aimed at promoting a regulated market, taking care of the industry, its consumers and those who participate in it. They also should be focused on creating a regional network, with the aim of strengthening and boosting industry development, regulatory harmonization and the creation of a regional market.
One such effort is the recent creation of RedCann, the American Network of Cannabis Associations, whose main objective is to promote the development of the cannabis industry through the exchange of experiences that allow for improvements at the technical and professional level. Nurturing the best agricultural practices for the production of cannabis, as well as promoting the added value chain, is crucial if our region wants to compete on the world stage.
And this is where the organized collective approach starts making a case for itself. Governments in Latin America tend to place a high priority on self-reliance and control, with very uncommon outreach to private voices and NGOs. Participation in the legal market is hindered by this lack of outreach to these interlocutors, creating excessive hurdles and costs related to compliance, a confounding regulatory process, and overall lack of understanding regarding cannabis, its uses and applications.
Understanding the critical importance of opening up this dialog between governments and industry leaders and stakeholders within the region is key. Cannabis will remain a highly regulated market, while stigma, illegal products, sourcing and the black market will continue to coexist alongside each other; to allocate the right resources and understand the correct decisions, one must not walk the path alone, be it a government agency or private company.
Fueled by a more general openness to learn about cannabis and its applications, as well as the continuing surge of medical evidence and data, the cannabis industry will continue to grow regardless of the specific regulatory pathway chosen by each country and their government. On the medical side, as more patients discover the benefits of cannabinoids, with the help of greater access to scientific information, the number of consumers will also continue growing. Similarly, as the digitization of products and services converge with the growing interest in wellness and mental health, we expect that the cannabis discussion is far from leaving the spotlight.
It is imperative, however, that we work together not only for economic growth and the benefit of the industry itself, but also for social improvement. For example, procurement of medical cannabis access goes beyond compassionate use; we should guarantee the right of patients to access their needed medication. The same goes for social equity, where racial, social and economic bias, a rampant topic regarding cannabis uses and Latinos, can be partially addressed through proper regulation.
Education, collaboration, and an open dialog with key decision-makers and stakeholders are, then, the way to move forward. Proper channels must be established, so the public and private sector, as well as society as a whole, can participate in delivering and understanding the same message: we must abandon the taboo, let go of our bias and embrace the medical, scientific and social justice approach. We are not, and should not be, alone in this path.