Why International Expansion Should Be on Your 2022 to-Do List

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With cannabis legalization spreading across the country like a slow-burning brushfire, it’s easy for existing businesses to become hyper-focused on domestic opportunities. But the death of decades-long prohibition is not just relegated to the United States, as legalization in the last several years has become a worldwide phenomenon.

The data firm BDSA Analytics just released a forecast that projects global cannabis sales reaching $35 billion in 2022, which is up 22% from last year. With numbers like those, the idea of international expansion becomes increasingly hard to ignore.


One of the realities in dealing with different countries that have legalized cannabis, be it medical or recreational, is that there’s no “one size fits all” model. Each country has taken steps to end prohibition in its own way, with its own rules, based on factors that include cultural heritage, political climate, financial needs, religion, and a cornucopia of other items.

Although this may seem complicated, the one constant is the broad spectrum of geographical locations around the world that have decided to make the move.

One very recent guest to the party is the country of Malta. At the end of 2021, while the world was gripped in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malta became the first European nation to allow the personal cultivation and use of cannabis. Adults are now allowed to carry up to seven grams of marijuana and grow four plants at home.

Malta stopped short at creating a framework for recreational retail sales, so unless you are in the home grow business such as nutrients and grow lights, or accessories like rolling papers and bongs, translating this into a strategic move for international expansion is perhaps premature at this time.

Having said that, this move toward greener pastures in Malta could be the spark that ignites other EU countries to forge ahead with their own legalization initiatives.

One such country is Germany, which already has the most profitable medical cannabis market in Europe. Now there is talk of the new coalition government allowing the sale of adult-use cannabis through licensed stores. With a population of 83.2 million, the Germans are the largest consumer market in the EU, so it’s not a stretch to believe that this could be a significant opportunity for businesses looking to expand their global footprint.

If entering an already established adult-use cannabis marketplace is more palatable, looking directly north would be a good idea. Canada has had a medical cannabis system in place since 2001, and on October 17, 2018, the country became the second nation in the world to legalize adult-use cannabis. The country has a plethora of cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers, many of whom look internationally for partnerships and expansion opportunities.

Domestically, Canada has been a powerhouse for revenue with a recent report from Deloitte showing that the Great White North has contributed $43.5 billion to the country’s GDP since legalization. The report added that for every dollar in revenue or capital expenditures, the industry adds $1.09 to Canada’s GDP. For a country with a population of approximately 38 million people, that shows a healthy industry, ripe for investment and growth opportunities.

If playing more of a long-term game when it comes to global expansion, businesses can look to the brand new emerging markets. One of those is the nation of Costa Rica.

At the beginning of March, this Central American nation became the 11th Latin American country to make medical cannabis legalization official. The others are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. 

The government of Costa Rica is now reviewing a specific framework for production and distribution, as well as how patients can apply for prescriptions, which could be accomplished as early as May.

Costa Rica also recently had its first Cannabis Science and Industry Congress, an event designed to bring awareness to the population regarding cultivation and business practices, as well as to attract foreign interest in the new sector.

Another early horse to bet on is the North African country of Morocco, which moved the needle of legalization on March 3rd. That is when the government designated three provinces (Al Hoceima, Chefchaouen, and Taounate) where cannabis cultivation would be legal. 

The framework around cultivation, processing, transport, marketing, and other activities is still in the works, but it’s clear that Morocco is looking at both domestic and international investment for this new venture.

A final country to consider at this time would be Israel. The Middle Eastern nation has long dominated the research and development sector for cannabis, with a multitude of innovations that include technological advancements, isolating cannabinoids, and discovering new treatments for conditions. More recently, Israel is moving forward with the decriminalization of adult-use cannabis.

As companies forge ahead with their grand plans for new and existing products as well as expansion opportunities, looking beyond the borders of the U.S. is a serious conversation worth having.