(Reuters) - Argentina on Wednesday launched the first working group of a new national agency to regularize and promote the country's nascent cannabis industry, which ministers hope will create new jobs and exports generating fresh income for the South American nation.
"This opens the door for Argentina to start a new path in terms of industrial exports, on the basis of huge global demand," said Economy Minister Sergio Massa in a conference launching the national hemp and cannabis agency, ARICCAME.
"All this needs to be transformed into an industry which generates work, which generates exports for Argentina and which generates value."
Massa said that the agency would from Thursday begin regularizing programs and coordinating with various provinces and industrial sector, adding Argentina already counted on demand for projects linked to the agro-industrial sector.
Francisco Echarren, who will lead the agency, said the industry could generate thousands of new jobs, as well as create technological developments and new products for export.
"We have a huge challenge ahead of us," he said, "not only getting a new industry on its feet, but giving millions of Argentines access to products that improve quality of life."
Argentina legalized cannabis oil for medicinal use in 2017, allowing the federal government to grow marijuana for research and therapeutic purpose.
In 2020, Argentina allowed people to grow marijuana at home for medicinal use. The decree also allowed pharmacies to sell products derived from cannabis, and ordered insurers to cover marijuana-based medications for patients with a prescription.
Uruguay became the first modern country to explicitly legalize growing, selling and smoking marijuana in 2013. In Colombia, President Gustavo Petro has also spoken about more regulation to boost the country's budding industry.
(Reporting by Sarah Morland; Editing by Christopher Cushing)