The Security Ministry’s recent authorisation of Argentina’s first and the world’s largest cannabis farm in Jujuy paves the way for a new export industry in Argentina – but it has also caused controversy, with accusations of nepotism and conflict with the government’s drug policy coming to the fore.
The announcement comes in the midst of an aggressive war on drugs launched by President Mauricio Macri’s government, which has regularly sought to publicise the Security Ministry’s record of arresting drug-traffickers and its seizure of illegal drug shipments. Set in that context, the move to grant Jujuy province the first license to produce marijuana in the country – albeit for medicinal use – unsurprisingly raised a number of eyebrows.
But even more surprising was one of the faces behind the project: one Gastón Morales – the son of Jujuy province Governor Gerardo Morales.
The pilot programme, a joint venture between the US company Green Leaf Farms and Morales’ firm Cannabis Avatara, will purportedly use between 5 to 15 hectares of provincial government land to produce and cultivate cannabis.
According to the parent company of Green Leaf Farms, Player’s Network Inc, the project will eventually be the largest legal cannabis cultivation project in the world, almost 1,000 times greater than the largest legal cannabis farm in the United States. Player’s Network, which was previously engaged in projects in California, has pulled out a planned acquisition to focus its business on Argentina.
It was last August that Governor Morales submitted a request for a cannabis farm licence, requesting to study and investigate the medical use of marijuana, derivatives and other non-conventional medical treatment under Law 27.350, put into effect in 2017. The Security Ministry said that before granting the licence, it carried out an exhaustive technical analysis with federal forces, concluding that the proposed site, the Pongo farm based in the Jujuy town of Perico, had the necessary security and fulfilled the legal national and provincial requirements. Now with the licence in hand, the development of the pilot programme is underway.
“The joint venture is expected to be completed in June and will have the necessary conditions to start cultivating marijuana at an industrial scale of over 500 hectares in the next five years and begin producing oils for medical purposes by August, November,” Morales said in an interview with Télam.
The first wave of production will have between 20 and 30 different varieties of medical marijuana, according to Morales. He also stressed that what is grown at the firm will be used for medical purposes, though the Players Company has said other uses are also in mined.
In a press release published last November, the firm wrote: “The joint venture has obtained permits to cultivate, extract, manufacture and export cannabis-based products to other countries where such products are legal.”
Exports will include industrial hemp, medical and adult use marijuana to the United States, Canada, and other emerging international markets, reports have suggested.
While some experts rushed to praise the government for evaluating the market and potential products, others have criticised the use of public resources for the gains of a private company.
“The law suggests that the Institute of National Farming Production Technology (INTA), Argentina’s Research Institute, CONICET, and public laboratories would dedicate themselves to the production of cannabis,” physiological sciences doctor Luis Acosta told Perfil.
Acosta explained that the problem is that key government organisations aren’t involved because they are underfunded, have been dismantled or now don’t function.
“Instead the government is forming agreements with foreign
companies – such as the case with
the son of the Governor of Jujuy
- where the state provides land
and security while they obtain
revenue,” the doctor explained.