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Uruguay sets new record in cannabis flower exports to Europe



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Uruguay-based company Fotmer Life Sciences again exported a large shipment of medical cannabis to Portugal in May – this time totaling nearly a ton and a half, according to Uruguayan customs documents seen by the Marijuana Business Daily. The international shipment comes about six months after the previous shipment to Portugal, also from Fotmer, of a ton of cannabis flower with a high THC content.

The Uruguayan shipments could spur other European importers to follow suit, which would progressively underline the growth of the global medical cannabis industry. Meanwhile, the two huge shipments prove unusual for their secrecy-shrouded nature – at least from the point of view of the importer. Cannabis companies, especially Canadian ones, are often proud of international shipments, no matter how small.

However, to date, no company has publicly assumed any responsibility for importing these shipments from Uruguay to Europe. The May shipment contained 1421 kilograms of high-THC flower, which exceeds Fotmer's 2019 one-ton shipment, presumably the largest ever shipped in a single shipment. The declared customs value of the last shipment was about US$2/gram, including costs, insurance and transport, according to Uruguay's customs documents, dated May 19, 2020.

Uruguay as a key exporter
Since last October, Fotmer's exports have totaled around three tonnes of cannabis flower – effectively positioning the South American nation in the small group of countries exporting significant amounts of high-THC marijuana. Comparatively, the Netherlands is believed to be the world's largest exporter of cannabis flower, according to the recent European medical cannabis report by MJBizDaily, which estimates that the country exported a total of 4,4 tonnes internationally in 2019.

Here's the big issue: Unlike Dutch exports, the entire quantity of cannabis flower exported from Uruguay was not processed in EU GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certified facilities. The Executive Director of Fotmer, Jordan Lewis, told MJBizDaily that the company produces in facilities certified with the GACP (Good Agricultural and Harvesting Practices) and Uruguayan GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certification and that the company has the “goal short-term goal of achieving European Union GMP certification.”

“As has been demonstrated by Fotmer, as well as by other companies, the path to a GACP product within the EU-GMP supply chain is as viable as it is profitable,” he said. Lewis added that he could not comment on the identity of the European buyer. This means that whichever entity is conducting the transactions on the Portuguese side is effectively paving the way for other medical cannabis companies to be able to export to the European Union without first obtaining the costly EU-GMP certification – provided that cannabis is grown and harvested to certain quality standards and processed in an EU-GMP facility in Europe before being sold to patients.

“We put no obstacles in the way of large public companies competing with each other for marketing through marketing campaigns while we provide private label solutions and production contracts to this myriad of competitors,” added Lewis. Last week, Tilray obtained EU-GMP certification so that its Portuguese facilities “can manufacture medical cannabis extracts in-house.” Tilray did not confirm or deny that it was the importer of the October shipment and did not respond to any other questions MJBizDaily asked about the May shipment.

not unprecedented
If the shipment of cannabis flower exported from Uruguay without EU-GMP certification is being used to manufacture extracts for medicinal use in an EU-GMP company, this would not be the first time. “The application of GACP versus EU-GMP, and at what point in the process the GACP transitions to GMP, is a subject still debated in the industry,” Karina Lahnakoski, partner in Risk Management at CCI Deloite, Canada, told MJBizDaily. . “A thorough understanding of the supply chain and legal requirements is imperative to apply proper quality controls,” she added. German herbal medicine manufacturer Bionorica – which in 2019 sold its cannabinoid sector to Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth – started doing so many years ago. Raw material exported from Austria has been used to produce dronabinol in Bavaria, Germany. The unprocessed Austrian flower is grown according to the guidelines of the GACP standard.

Cannabis grown in Austria
It is for this reason that the Austrian agency grows cannabis under GACP guidelines. “All of our raw materials are processed by our customers,” says Föger. Most of the dronabinol sold by Canopy is derived from the plant, as confirmed via email to MJBizDaily by Christian Goertz, Canopy's director of corporate communications in Europe. Goertz did not comment on whether the company still uses cannabis flower imported from Austria for the purpose of making dronabinol. Although GACP-grown cannabis flower can be used as a raw material, all cannabis flower sold to patients in German, Italian or Dutch pharmaceuticals has so far been produced in EU-GMP certified facilities. As an example, domestic German producers – who cultivate and harvest but do not extract – must comply with the requirements of both the GACP and the GMP, distinguishing between the two areas of production. The Netherlands exports the flower to Germany for pharmaceutical availability and for the production of dronabinol, but all the flower exported from the Netherlands is
produced in EU-GMP facilities.

Alfredo Pascual
This text was originally published by Alfredo Pascual in to MJBizDaily on June 3, 2020 and translated for CannaReporter by Raquel Ralha.

Feature Image: Medical cannabis produced by Fotmer Life Sciences awaits shipment to Portugal at Carrasco International Airport, Uruguay (Photo courtesy of Fotmer)



[Disclaimer: Please note that this text was originally written in Portuguese and is translated into English and other languages ​​using an automatic translator. Some words may differ from the original and typos or errors may occur in other languages.]


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