It’s easy to assume that the top countries exporting cannabis are the countries with the largest legal markets. But in fact, some of the world’s greatest cannabis exporters are based in nations that still prohibit their own citizens from using the drug.
Elsewhere, major policy shifts toward legalization are spurring overseas investment in cannabis production. And as countries continue lowering trade barriers and change the laws governing the cannabis industry, expect the export landscape to change dramatically over the coming years.
So from emerging markets to well-established ones, here are the top countries exporting cannabis you need to know.
The Top Countries Exporting Cannabis Around The World
Virtually all of the legal international trade in cannabis involves the medical sector. Imported and exported cannabis products supply medical markets and clinical research facilities.
And given the worldwide trend toward broader legalization of medical cannabis, demand is increasing. But whether the top countries exporting cannabis are meeting or even exceeding that demand is an important question, both for companies and investors.
Here’s a list of the top eight countries exporting cannabis, in alphabetical order.
Australia represents just an emerging player on the cannabis export stage. But thanks to a recent change in the country’s trade laws, Australia could quickly become one of the biggest world cannabis exporters.
In January 2018, the Australian government legalized the overseas export of cannabis products for medical use. The law dramatically reduces trade obstacles for Australia’s domestic producers.
Almost immediately, overseas investments poured into the country’s cultivation industry. Australia hopes to supply markets, like Germany’s, that continue to experience shortfalls.
Australia has no adult-use cannabis program. But the Turnbull government legalized medical access with a federal program in 2016.
A thriving export industry could help jumpstart domestic production, as well. Australia is absolutely an exporter to watch going forward.
Canada is undisputedly a worldwide leader in cannabis exports. The North American nation has had a thriving federal medical cannabis program since 2001. And on October 17, Canada will become the second country on earth fully legalize marijuana.
Canada has been exporting cannabis to markets worldwide since 2015 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office and threw out the previous administration’s no-export policy.
And over the past few years, Canada’s cannabis giants are exporting record amounts of cannabis. In 2017, the country exported ten times the dried cannabis it exported in 2016.
And that’s because in the European Union, where Canada exports most of its cannabis, oils are often the only legalized form of the drug.
Ironically, officials in Colombia are hoping to build on the country’s “brand awareness” as an infamous exporter of illegal narcotics. That reputation, some feel, will help to propel Colombia’s legal market into international prominence.
But the country’s legal weed laws, passed in 2016, are likely to make the most difference on the ground. In addition to liberal domestic policy for Colombian citizens, the government has given exports the green light.
Licensed medical cannabis producers can export to other countries with virtually no restrictions.
Importantly, export destinations are more likely to be other South and Latin American countries, rather than Europe and North America. As more countries in those regions legalize medical cannabis, they could potentially become major target markets for Colombian exporters.
Denmark has a very young and restrictive medical cannabis program. In 2018, the country legalized medical marijuana for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, patients with sclerosis or spinal injuries and chronic pain patients.
The trial program will run for four years before Denmark’s parliament votes on legalizing medical cannabis more broadly. Adult-use legalization, however, isn’t on the table.
Nevertheless, Denmark could fast-become one of the top countries exporting cannabis in Scandinavia, due to construction operations underway by Canada’s major cannabis producers.
Both Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth Corp. are constructing large greenhouse facilities in Denmark. And when they’re done, Denmark will have the largest production capacity in the region.
Denmark’s objective is to supply medical markets in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. Yet the size of the greenhouse facilities means that production should quickly outpace demand in those countries.
And that means surplus cannabis that will be exported to other markets.
Thanks to a recent cultural and religious shift on the question of cannabis, Israel is poised to become one of the top countries exporting cannabis, period.
For years, Israel has led the world in medical cannabis research. And in 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved an export reform law that would free cannabis producers to export medical cannabis.
A parliamentary committee estimated that at full capacity, Israel’s cannabis exports could produce more than $1.1 billion in revenue each year.
Yet opposition from other Israeli officials and lawmakers has put the reform effort in limbo. Conservative politicians have expressed concerns about surplus cannabis being diverted to recreational consumers.
As a result, there could end up being concessions to the bill that restrict the number of producers and growers licenses.
Investors, however, are still targeting the country for export operations. In March of this year, for example, the Israeli company Medivie Therapeutic and its subsidiary High Pharma closed a $110 million dollar deal to produce cannabis for a European buyer.
Despite vast regions with ideal climates for the production of cannabis, African countries have yet to emerge as major cannabis exporters.
But overseas investments are likely to rapidly shift the trade landscape across the continent.
Take, for example, the Seattle-based firm Rhizo Sciences. In December 2017, Rhizo announced a major partnership with Africa’s first major medical cannabis producer.
Medi Kingdom Holdings, a production company in Lesotho, is using its $45 million export partnership with Rhizo Sciences to construct a 400,000 square foot production and export facility.
Lesotho is a mountainous country with a climate exceptionally well-suited to growing high-quality cannabis for medicinal markets. Medi Kingdom began growing its first crop there in 2016. Since then, the company has set up three sites.
Rhizo contracted with Medi Kingdom to purchase the entire output of the new facility, which will export wholesale flower and extracts in addition to other pharmaceutical products.
Going forward, expect to see other transnational firms establish partnerships with growers in Africa. Gaining an early foothold in the region could prove massively advantageous.
Many commentators have pointed to the strange contradiction in the UK’s cannabis market. Officially, the UK government maintains that cannabis has no medical value or use.
Yet the United Kingdom is the leading exporter of medical marijuana on the planet.
Last year, a United Nation’s report revealed that Britain is the world’s largest producer of legal cannabis. The UK is also the largest exporter of cannabis globally.
In 2016, cannabis exports from the UK accounted for about 68 percent of the global total, according to the UN report.
In terms of exports, the UK’s closest competitors are of course Canada and the Netherlands. But to put that competition in perspective exports from the Netherlands accounted only for 16.4 percent of the global total.
This data is good ammunition for cannabis advocates hoping to reform drug policy in the UK. While recreational legalization has yet to gain any significant traction, advocacy groups have succeeded in making medical cannabis a national debate.
Uruguay holds the historical title of being the first nation in the world to legalize cannabis. Yet the South American nation has yet to emerge as one of the top countries exporting cannabis.
That’s mostly because domestic producers have supplied Uruguay’s own demand for cannabis. But as of 2017, Uruguay is making a major pivot toward the export market and is looking to be a major supplier of medical cannabis in South and Latin American countries.
So while Uruguay may not be one of the top countries exporting cannabis today, it very well might become a significant regional player in the years ahead.
One company, International Cannabis Corporation, has already established production and lab facilities in Montevideo. The company currently grows medical cannabis on a 576-acre facility there and plans to invest $10 million in production this year.