As cannabis demonstrates its potential health benefits, the business of this new ‘green gold’ does not cease growing.
In Uruguay exports of cáñamo – fibres and stalks of the plant along with flowers with a maximum of one percent of THC, the psycho-active component – have already reached US$100 million, according to Agriculture Ministry data. That’s the equivalent of a quarter of the citric trade, the most important market after soy.
Here in Argentina, businessmen have been taking note of the economic potential and expansion of marijuana for a while now, and not just because two months ago the government cleared the sale of CBD cannabis oil in pharmacies.
The latest novelty is that for the first time a national private-sector group is plunging into this industry by taking control of a Canadian-based company – former PRO deputy Facundo Garretón and Claudio Belocopitt, the owner of Swiss Medical Group and Grupo América, are the main names behind this multi-million venture.
Last month the capital group FLA Ventures bought a majority shareholding for US$1 million in Blueberries, a firm based in Canada and operating in Colombia.
FLA Ventures was created by Sebastián Houchbaum and Facundo Belocopitt (the son of Claudio Belocopitt), both lawyers specialising in finance and both aged 26. They have attracted various investors, including the elder Belocopitt.
Betting on business
“It was a hard sell for me when they began to show this to me as an alternative. I’m pretty old and I did not see how anybody could come to me and talk about these things,” Claudio Belocopitt told Noticias. “But I’ve known people undergoing treatment with cannabis who told me: 'Just a few drops and it’s working.' That’s not a fantasy, I’ve seen it!”
The Swiss Medical Group owner says he spied a business opportunity: “It seems to me an industry just starting and everything points to a huge potential.”
Furthermore, Belocopitt assures that there will be more businessmen wanting their slice of 'green gold.'
“Once this industry is massively developed, I’ve no doubt that it will come to form part of the general and commercial pharmacological market. It’s showing itself in medical treatment – its globalisation can be assumed,” says Belocopitt, who was convinced to jump in by his son Facundo, who also sits on the Board of Directors of Swiss Medical Group.
“My old man is super-open – he listens,” recounts the younger Belocopitt, as he recalls how he persuaded his father to open up his wallet to buy the Blueberries shares. “I told him all about how cannabis was coming on in the world. It’s something which can help a great many people and it’s related to health.”
“You have to bet on cannabis,” he maintains.
Belocopitt the elder says that he is “only an investor.” The driving-force behind the project is Facundo Garretón, who served as a deputy for the centre-right PRO Party between 2015 and 2019 but is perhaps better-known as a website entrepreneur.
“When I was in Congress, I had to handle the Medicinal Cannabis bill in 2017 and I started looking at comparable legislation in Uruguay, Canada and the United States. I spotted the opportunity there,” Garretón told Noticias.
Garretón’s first stake in cannabis was in Uruguay in late 2019, with an investment of US$1.5 million in Ivy Life Science growers.
“The challenge lay in passing to an industrial scale and giving added value to cannabis. We’re assembling the biggest company in Latin America with super-strategic partners,” said Garretón, referring to the Swiss Medical Group owner.
That’s why the former lawmaker’s next mission was to stick the flag in another country of the region where the regulations were already resolved – in mid-2020 the Tucumán entrepreneur purchased shares in Blueberries, thus becoming one of the directors of that Canadian-based company with its main operations in Colombia.
His decision was no coincidence.
In Colombia CBD – the component of the plant related to medical use – has been completely legal since 2016. Since then, the sky seems the limit for this business.
According to an Asociación Colombiana de Industrias del Cannabis report, last year’s exports for medical use increased 1,363 percent by comparison with 2019, totalling annual earnings of some US$4.5 million. A report prepared by the Fedesarrollo consultancy firm sees Colombian sales abroad as more profitable than the cacao trade.
The business opportunity is served up and Argentine businessmen have already started signing their cheque-books.
The group of Argentine investors say they’re aiming to install a number of different sister companies scattered across the region, which are intended to be self-sufficient with productive material while generating their own business.
Uruguay has the raw material and Colombia the production of medicinal oil. But in the future, the project aims to set up base in Mexico and Brazil for aesthetic items and digital commerce. Argentina does not lie outside these projections and the businessmen already have partners in the form of members of the family of Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales.
Another key player in the Argentine group is Sebastián Houchbaum, a lawyer specialising in finance and a friend of Facundo Belocopitt since childhood, who is now one of Blueberries’ directors. While Houchbaum has been following the development of this business at global level with close attention, he only joined last year when he invested in Garretón’s company in Uruguay – a key connection for reaching the owner of Swiss Medical Group.
Nevertheless, the Blueberries director says that he wants to contribute a new mode of production to the world because “capitalism cannot continue being run as until now. It’s been a wilder world in recent years,” he says, referring to the exploitation of natural resources and environmental pollution.
That’s why the youngster affirms that part of the key is “making the transition from artificial to a more natural medicine.”
“Cannabis is part of that as one of the industries which can contribute the most to that change,” he says.