ROLLING LEGAL: How a Brazilian is Blazing Trails in Uruguay’s Hemp Industry

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All photos by Fabio Bastos

An interview with Brazilian ganjapreneur Fabio Bastos, CEO of Sediña

by Ras Stephen Charles Flohr

10/6/15

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side. At least that’s been the case for Fabio Bastos, 35, a prominent Brazilian journalist who decided to pack his bags and transplant himself in neighboring Uruguay in pursuit of entrepreneurial conquest in the country’s fledgling hemp/cannabis industry. In collaboration with the Brazilian cannabis portal Smoke Buddies, I had the privilege to catch up with Fabio and pick his brain regarding his journey into greener yet unchartered pastures. At first, Fabio was leary about talking with me and responded to my initial journalistic requests with a dismissive if not brash demeanor. “We at Sediña aren’t interested in such partnerships, he replied”. Yet once I reassured him that my intentions were purely literary and not commercial, he quickly warmed into the gracious, forthcoming and charismatic personality that suited his glimmering reputation as Uruguay’s alien hemp pioneer. “You’ll have to excuse me for being so closed and short with you”, he explained. “It’s just that I get so many requests on a daily basis from people wanting personal information just so that they can set up shop and be my competition”. I assured him that I understood. It’s no doubt that everyone and their grandmother is clamoring for a piece of market share in the fertile yet still uncertain landscape of Uruguayan legalization.

 

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Fabio established his corporation Sediña (translated as rolling paper in Portuguese/Spanish) with the launching of a rolling paper which is advertised as the “Paper of Legalization” and is currently being sold throughout Uruguay and Brazil. Fabio recruits local representatives who are interested in furthering his mission of inspiring the legalization debate in his native country, which he sees languishing in the ice-ages of prohibition, and to give inroads to Sediña’s products in the Brazilian market. He made it clear to us that our work as journalists is in direct alignment with his aspirations of expanding the debate to a broader segment of society so that a more common-sense based, socio-political approach towards cannabis, could flourish. May this interview serve as a rallying point for discourse in unpacking the regional intricacies and entrepreneurial challenges posed by nascent markets in the spectre of global legalization.

How did this idea come about of you becoming a legal and registered grower of cannabis? Was it something that you envisioned implementing in Brazil following a future legalization measure or did this only occur after legalization took place in Uruguay?
Fabio: The path was natural for me because I am a natural born entrepreneur. When I was 18 years old I was already working as an executive producer and director for television programming. When I created the first season of CurtoCircuito ten years ago, I was already in my fifth television contract and it was just me going at it alone, going there, buying the space and showing what I wanted to the public audience that followed my work without any censorship. Little by little I started dealing with herb-related issues in a time when nobody even thought of dealing with such a controversial issue publically. Well, things started closing up, program managers didn’t want to have anything to do with me, I wound up without any work. It was around this time when the issue started gaining steam in Uruguay, people were taking the streets and it seemed like it was really going to happen in that country. Given the way things were turning out for me as I mentioned, the first thing that came to my head was: I have to be a part of this! So I started to study about growing, reading everything about marijuana, watching all the videos I could, I studied the market, legalization, etc.
I went to Uruguay and I was able to follow the entire legalization process firsthand. I made trips back and forth and ended up meeting many Uruguayans who had the same business goals. I started seeing the growth of the market like growshops for example, you know, watching everything unfold right before my very eyes. Without space and, above all, without motivation to continue in the media sector in Rio de Janeiro, I prepared myself to go live and work with cannabis in Uruguay. That’s how it was and before I knew it , I was already super involved.

What was the first step you took after your decision?
Fabio: Once I went to Uruguay, setting myself up as a legal resident and starting the process of getting all the paperwork together in order to start commercial activity was an adventure. Bureaucracy, that seemed small at first, little by little became more and more tedious, although tolerable (after all, I am Brazilian!), until there came the day of registering the business with the DGI (legal organ authorizing business activity in the country). I went with Gerardo, my accountant, and when we explained our business intentions to the very nice clerk who was helping us, she let out a big laugh, excused herself, and then called some of her colleagues to come help her with the process; the system wasn’t even ready to deal with this new segment of the market that the country just established. After a lot of being laughed at and doubts, Sediña became the first industrial hemp business in South America.
In Uruguay, have you experienced prejudice because you are a foreigner investing in a neighboring country after the change in law?
Fabio: Uruguay has a very large elderly population and the majority are against legalization. The youth are super liberal, free from prejudice and thirsty for life. It’s a very interesting combination that teaches us the lesson of how different ideas and points of view can exist side by side. Montevideo is loaded with foreigners and the people there are more used to it. They are receptive, excellent hosts, and they respect cultural differences while demanding respect for their own traditions. Uruguay is a beautiful country, very advanced in infrastructure and very advantageous in terms of opening a new business. Prejudice in Uruguay, with regards to the current generation, doesn’t exist.
What are some of ‘Sediña Marihuana y Derivados’ products that have or will be presented to the market?
Fabio: Sediña entered the market in 2015, and then gradually came along its’ product line. We started with the rolling paper which is now available and soon we will launch CanabidiOIL (CBD oil with 22% concentration), a line of genetics in partnership with BCN Seeds in Spain, specially developed by Karulo Abelan, founder of the magazine Cañamo (Hemp) and the owner of Barcelona’s first growshop. We will also sell the excess production of hemp to industries.

 

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You are currently in China. Can you tell us why?
Fabio: In China, they produce 50%, that’s half of hemp production globally. That’s why I came here. My main objective here is hemp. Since China is a major producer of so many things like electronics, we are also producing here things like vaporizers and other electronics that we work with. So I opened an operation here so that we can work from both sides of the globe, in Uruguay and China, and facilitate our operations. So here’s what I’m going to do, I am going to plant the hemp in Uruguay, then I am going to send it here to China and have it processed, and from there on we will produce our products. From hemp we can do everything, we can make biofuel, clothes, plastics, all in all a great deal of products, and this is my purpose: hemp and hemp derivatives. Sediña doesn’t work with nor has the interest in working directly with smokable marijuana. Since there exists the cannabis market we use this as a marketing strategy, so we made the rolling papers, lighters, vaporizers and these types of accessories, but this is more of a marketing tactic. Our business is hemp. We have our hemp plantation and the idea is to generate products from it.
Can you speak a little about the role that you and Sediña are playing in Brazil and how you are trying to stimulate the debate here regarding legalization?
Fabio: Yes, I am working hard in the area of activism with regards to legalization in Brazil, however, more from the standpoint of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, not recreational. I don’t deal with recreational marijuana. I smoke, I enjoy it, we got our own thing going of course, but we don’t work with a recreational focus. Therefore our activism in Brazil is aimed at separating these two things, to make the people understand that industrial hemp is different from marijuana, that one doesn’t have anything to do with the other, and that hemp needs to be legalized in Brazil in order to generate wealth, to drive the economy, to substitute products, less dependence on petroleum, etc. I believe that soon all Brazilians will be able to grow in their homes and have unrestricted access without being subject to heavy firearms nor will they be considered criminals for seeking out a cure for their illnesses. I defend this right of the people and I work so that people who may not have the time, knowledge or willingness to grow their own, can buy these products from specialized businesses.
What is your opinion regarding the Uruguayan model in terms of its’ cultivation and distribution scheme compared to other models that we see, for example, in the United States? Which would you like to see implemented in Brazil?
Fabio: As far as the Uruguay model is concerned, I think it’s right on the money. It’s not completely liberated, it’s something that is very controlled, yet it is a type of control that leads things in the direction of professional development. On one side it is going to generate resources, it’s going to generate jobs in the field and for the industry. In the end, it’s really going to move the economy of the country. Regarding the distribution of marijuana through pharmacies here in Uruguay, I think it’s pretty cool even though it’s not happening yet. It might happen, it might not. The only detail is that I don’t really see a market for it. Why? Because the market is already being supplied by homegrowing and by cannabis clubs. So I don’t see the possibility of a large clientele of Uruguayans for the pharmacies; I think its small. So I don’t see the opportunity for the people and businesses that are investing millions of dollars to enter into this market to see a return on their investment in the short term. And so I don’t see commercial viability for these businesses that are going to sell marijuana in the pharmacies. But this is only a personal opinion and we’re only going to see what will happen after it’s been put into practice. And so I really hope that Brazil adopts the Uruguayan model and not the American model. I think the American model is too liberal and in Brazil, for our culture, I don’t think it would work. The American model is very open, it has less restrictions, it is more accessible. The Uruguayan model is more closed, it has more governmental control. I think for the Brazilian culture, a more controlled model would work better. The American model in Brazil would turn out to be a mess.

What are some of the difficulties and challenges that you have faced in moving forth with Sedina?
Fabio: The main difficulty that we face is overcoming the negative stigma associated with marijuana, even here in Uruguay. And this is my greatest challenge, making the people separate hemp from marijuana and eliminate the inappropriate drug stigma. Sediña is a hemp business and the idea is to produce hemp products using its fiber and such, and so it’s difficult and we are always struggling with this. In Brazil it’s the same thing, the stigma barrier. But Brazil is very, very, very much behind Uruguay at this moment. The business and market of marijuana in itself is something very simple. There is no mystery to it. The mystery is in the taboo that is created in people’s heads. And so our main marketing objective is to demystify the various uses of cannabis, from recreational to medicinal to industrial. Yet for the most part, people here are very open and want to see it work. We’re still in the very beginning of things and so things need to happen step by step. But everybody who I am in contact with and show our projects to are very excited and want to know how they can help. You need to have the soul and predisposition for this type of thing which is something ancient yet new at the same time.

Call for Help from WA Medical Cannabis Access Points

Estimating the medical cannabis market for the WSLCB:

Left to right: CASP Board member Don E. Wirtschafter, esq; Don Skakie; Reverend Jeff Church; NORML President Kevin Oliver; Medical Cannabis Producer Shawn DeNae; and Dr. Corva. Panel from 2014 Seattle Hempfest Hemposium.

Photo by Steve Hyde

by Dr. Dominic Corva, Executive Director

CASP requests assistance from all Washington State Medical Cannabis Access Points! We have been contracted by BOTEC to help develop and administer an anonymous, 10-question survey to this part of the medical cannabis industry. The surveys will be aggregated and run through a BOTEC-developed econometric model to estimate the size of Washington’s medical marijuana retail market. The results will be presented to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, who will then use the results to make big decisions about the new 502 retail window and the issuance of medical “endorsements.”

In addition to being anonymous, a further step has been taken to insulate the information providers from identification. We have received a letter from the WSLCB stating that they will not have access to the raw data. It is available here: BOTEC – Letter on behalf of LCB – FINAL.

In the interest of transparency, I am fully aware that our information network is being used in exchange for money. I have two observations about that: our network tends toward the collaborative side, and it’s tough to ask people for money just because. The value of our community’s interest in knowledge-based policy makes this a public service, not just a policymaker service.

This contract breaks new ground for CASP, and we are humbled to be invited to steward the production of useful knowledge. The better informed policy is, the better the policy is. We make no grand claims about this knowledge: it will have to be refined and undoubtedly will be used for many purposes.  We only claim that it will be better for your participation.

If you are an access point owner in Washington State, please contact Dr. Corva at dominic@caspcenter.org to receive the survey and answer any questions.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. We hope to hear from you soon! We have a small window of time to do this, as the LCB will need processed results in just a few weeks.