Big Weed in Canada is taking another step towards global domination as one of the country's largest medical marijuana producers just shipped some of its products to Croatia.
It's believed to be the first time a North American company has legally exported cannabis to the EU for commercial medical use.
Tilray, based in British Columbia and one of the companies licensed by Canada's federal health ministry to produce and distribute medical cannabis, was recently granted an export permit. And it's expected other licensed producers will also receive similar licenses to export their products abroad in the near future.
"It's the industry of the future, and countries right now in Europe are set for a strong medical cannabis market. This is just the tip of the iceberg," Sean Carney, Tilray's director of European business development told VICE News in an interview from western Croatia. He added that, for now, Tilray is the only supplier of medical marijuana in the country.
On Friday, the company shipped two types of capsules containing cannabis extracts — both containing different concentrations of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the plant's psychoactive ingredient, and CBD (cannabidiol), a non-psychoactive ingredient.
Carney said the country is only interested in oils for now, and not dried cannabis that can be smoked. The only cannabis supplier in Europe now is Bedrocan, and they only produce medical cannabis in dried form.
"The Croatians did their homework and they know how to make this system work," Carney continued. "They didn't want the stigma of people smoking joints ... of having a stoner mentality attached to this program."
Croatia legalized marijuana for medical use in 2015, making it legal for doctors to prescribe it for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, nausea associated with HIV/AIDS, nausea from cancer treatments, dravet syndrome, and malignant diseases. The product will be sold through pharmacies across the country.
Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since the early 2000s, and the federal government is expected to introduce legislation that will make it legal for recreational purposes in 2017.
Carney said his company is also looking to expand in Australia, where it's about to conduct a clinical trial in partnership with the government of New South Wales, and the University of Sydney, as well as other EU countries where medical cannabis is legal.
"Every country is at a slightly different phase," he said. "But the ones we're looking at right now include Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands."
Canada's federally licensed marijuana producers are tightly regulated by Health Canada under the 2013 "Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations" (MMPR) program (no one really knows why it spells marijuana like that) and are subjected to regular inspections.
This, Carney says, makes Canadian marijuana producers extremely attractive to governments in Europe, where production standards are extremely rigid.
"A lot of companies couldn't meet these standards," he said. "That sets us up to be able to compete on the world stage against marijuana companies in Israel, in the US, anywhere."
Last August, Canada's largest marijuana producer, Tweed Marijuana Inc., now Canopy Growth Corp., acquired Bedrocan Canada Inc., which is a licensee of dutch company Bedrocan International.
Until last year, Bedrocan Canada imported its medical products from Bedrocan the Netherlands.
Canopy is already gearing up for Canada's potential recreational market, buying up new warehouse and production spaces — despite the fact that there are only around 40,000 medical marijuana patients in Canada.
And earlier this year, Canopy Growth Corp. became the first licensed producer to expand abroad by buying a 15 percent stake of Australia's AusCann International, a medical marijuana company.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne