For decades, The Netherlands has dominated the market for cannabis genetics. Whether you’re growing a few plants in your closet or you own a legal cannabis farm in North America, chances are you’re getting your seeds from a Dutch seed bank.
But over 11,000km away, Uruguayan cannabis breeders are slowly, and very timidly, breaking into the market for cannabis seeds. Could Uruguay be home to a new wave of seedbanks and exotic genetics?
River Grown Genetics
It’s 4:30pm and overcast. I break up a sticky, dense, dark green bud with beautiful purple hues. As I light up and inhale, a thick, sweet smoke fills the room and I settle down to write.
I’m smoking a Blueberry Automatic from that my friend grew on his terrace under the strong Argentine sun last summer. The seeds, to the surprise of many, came from Del Plata Genetics in Uruguay.
In 2013, the small Latin American nation became the first country to fully legalize cannabis. If you’re a Uruguayan resident, you can now buy weed at a pharmacy or cannabis club or grow your own.
You can spark up anywhere it’s legal to smoke a cigarette, and you can even ask a police officer for a light.
But since legalizing weed almost a decade ago, the growth of the cannabis industry in Uruguay has been very, very slow.
If the US cannabis industry were a Walmart, Uruguay’s weed industry (if you can even call it that) is like a farmers market.
And while it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon, the industry is making some advances.
As of 2020, Uruguay is officially home to a handful of boutique-ish seedbanks.
Silver River Seeds, based in Montevideo, has an extremely impressive catalog of over 20 different feminized and automatic varieties with exotic names like Despink, Sourflash, River Haze, Apple Cookies, and more.
These strains are the work of Alberto Huergo, a mysterious cultivator and author of Sativa: Cultivo Interior (Indoor Cultivation).
Alberto claims to have 30 years of experience growing cannabis and has spent the last 2 decades breeding, preserving and crossing some of Latin America’s most prized strains.
He is the man behind Dutch Passion’s Desfran, winner of Argentina’s 2011 Copa Del Mar and Brazil’s 2012 Copa De Rio Janeiro, among many other awards.
His book, published in 2008, is a 600-page bible that covers everything there is to know about cultivating cannabis indoors, from the basics of the cannabis lifecycle to specifics on how to identify and treat nutrient deficiencies, prevent pest infestations, harvest and cure buds, and much more.
Alberto is also the head of Haze, a cannabis culture magazine published in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.
Unfortunately, after eagerly awaiting a response from Silver River for an interview with Alberto, I got this message:
“Thanks Steve for your interest and proposal. We prefer to keep flying low to avoid detecting the presence of uncomfortable radars. It is legal to cultivate in Uruguay or to own a cannabis club and make your own seeds. However, it’s not too clear whether it is legal to advertise or sell them. If I knew that it was legal, I would go on TV and would give you several interviews. But unfortunately, this is a grey area, and not even IRCA [Uruguay’s Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis) knows what to tell you [about the legality of marketing and sellings seeds].
This lack of detailed regulation is a recurring problem in Uruguay’s approach to dealing with cannabis.
Regulation: Uruguay’s Weak Point.
Uruguay’s laws make it so that there’s still a budding black market for weed aimed at tourists (who can’t legally buy cannabis in the country), and some of its borders are very poorly controlled, making it easy for cannabis to be smuggled into neighboring countries.
The northern city of Rivera, for example, shares a street with the Brazilian city Santana do Livramento.
Crossing from Uruguay into Brazil here is literally a matter of crossing a street which, in the 3 days I spent in Rivera in 2019, was never patrolled neither by Uruguayan nor Brazilian authorities.
Unfortunately, this lack of regulation doesn’t just make room for criminal activity, but it also affects people trying to run honest, above-board businesses with cannabis.
People like Alberto, for example, who strive to turn their experience with and passion for cannabis into a living.
But despite its many shortcomings, Uruguay still has something going for it; it was one of the first countries to officially stop arresting cannabis users for consuming or growing their own weed.
And for anyone living in a country that still criminalizes the use of cannabis, that’s worth a ton.
Hopefully, as the market and the industry around cannabis expands in Uruguay, there’ll be more clarity around legal grey areas (like the sale of seeds), giving people like Alberto room to expand their roots and further grow their businesses.