NEW YORK (MainStreet) While most attention in the cannabis space right now is focused on both legal and commercial activities North of the border, a significant new development in Uruguay continues to make news. It's still too early to tell, however, how Uruguay's decision to legalize every aspect of the marijuana business will impact sales and distribution in North America, even for larger and established U.S. companies in trying to make green off the green stuff.
In late December 2013, Uruguay made its radical decision -- becoming the first country worldwide to take such a radical acceptance of marijuana -- in an attempt to combat drug cartels. The move affects everyone from growers to the average citizen, who will legally be allowed to buy up to 40g (1.3 lbs) a month.
According to Ata Gonzalez, CEO of U.S. based production and grow company GFarmaLabs, this was a national experiment long in the making.
"It's the best way to neutralize illegal trafficking - by taking away a part of that black market share," Gonzalez said.
Of note, Monsanto (MON), the international food and drug maker, also plans to launch production of genetically modified marijuana in-country. Monsanto is a publicly traded Missouri-based company, and is the leading provider of genetically altered seeds for U.S. agriculture. Monsanto is not the only company now looking south of the border for opportunities to grow and develop new strains of cannabinoids, but it is certainly the largest and one of the few in the position to enter into national relationships, if not tackle the huge issue of international exports of the same.
The growth domestically in the U.S. of both a defined user base (both medical and recreational) and changing state and international laws, makes this a huge and potentially lucrative global market. In the U.S., the value of the cannabis crop now is only behind soybeans and corn.
Gonzalez however, believes that the U.S. domestic crop for now, at least, is what will supply American demand for cannabinoids, no matter the promise of a completely regulated national industry in Uruguay. That said, the prospect of imported product is not one that Gonzalez supports, particularly under the aegis of a much larger company like Monsanto. Per Gonzalez, importing "will most certainly be met with opposition should we ever see the day that importing becomes a viable option."
One of the overarching fears throughout the burgeoning industry in the U.S. -- even if not, an immediate threat, according to established businesses like GFarmalabs -- is the reality that at a time when America's most valuable cash crop is finally coming into its own, it is already facing the specter of potential competition from abroad.
That said, right now companies like the one Gonzalez helms are not only doing well, but also have their hands full if not sights set on more immediate challenges.
"We have our own battle to fight since we still aren't able to export between states in our own country," concluded Gonzalez. "I can't even imagine a global market until that happens."
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet