California-based Medical Marijuana eyes Mexico as next big market

(Reuters) - Medical Marijuana Inc, a pioneer in the industrial hemp business, is betting on Mexico as its next big market as the country opens up to the import of some cannabis-derived products for medical use.

A Cannabis plant is pictured at the "Weed the People" event as enthusiasts gather to celebrate the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Portland, Oregon July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

The California-based company manufactures a hemp oil which can, under permits granted this week, be imported to Mexico for the first time to treat specific medical cases. It already supplies a similar product to Brazil.

Stuart Titus, Medical Marijuana’s chief executive, said Mexico represented a “$1 billion to $2 billion opportunity” in terms of cumulative revenue over the next 10 years.

Many companies in the legal cannabis business are considering a bet on Mexico after a Supreme Court decision in November opened the door for the eventual legalization of recreational marijuana.

Just days after this decision, a ruling party senator proposed a bill to allow the import of medical marijuana products to help the roughly 5,000 patients without access to such drugs. This bill could be approved by May.

Medical Marijuana, a company controlled by private equity firm General Hemp LLC, will be able to import its Real Scientific Hemp Oil, or RSHO-X, before then.

On Monday, Mexico’s health ministry and Cofepris, the health regulator, authorized imports of the product for the specific use of two patients, in both cases young, female epilepsy sufferers.

The permits are the first to be granted by the government bodies, although a judge last year sanctioned the import of a similar product for a third girl, said Andres Aguinaco, a lawyer representing the two girls named in Monday’s announcement.

Imports are restricted to products free of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient in marijuana that gets you ‘high’. RSHO-X contains cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive component of the plant.

In Brazil, Medical Marijuana’s hemp oil is also imported on a case-by-case basis for the treatment of chronic pain and the symptoms of epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

“We do expect Mexico to be similar to Brazil, in that it will require a doctor’s prescription,” said Titus, adding that he expected more permits to follow.

With a population of 120 million people, Mexico could eventually provide a sizeable market for marijuana investors.

By way of comparison, the U.S. legal pot market was worth some $3.5 billion in 2015, according to marijuana investment and research firm ArcView Group. A federal U.S. legalization of marijuana would create a market worth $36.8 billion, it said.

Reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Robin Paxton