Colombia is looking to exchange gun-toting traffickers for corporate backers in a bid to become the most powerful supplier of cannabis. President Santos pressed for medicinal legalization on a commercial scale as early as 2012 and hailed the 2016 legislation as a major leap of progress.
Colombia has plans to become Saudi Arabia of legal marijuana, in 1986, the South American state has decriminalized small-scale growth for personal use, allowing the cultivation of up to 20 plants. Nowadays, the nascent industry here still faces hurdles.
The history shows the controversy of such government approach, the new industry is budding here on the outskirts of Medellin, where narco lord Escobar moved marijuana in the 1970s. Later, he became a “King of Cocaine”, and after his tragic death in the 1990s, marijuana plants are blooming in the emerald hills beyond Medellin, this time with the government’s blessing.
Despite all this, Camilo Ospina, the lab-coat-wearing chief innovation officer for PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings, said that country’s advantage is that the Colombian brand already has a mystique.
“We want to intensify that, so that the Colombian cannabis you already know — the Punto Rojo, the Colombian Gold — is the cannabis you want to buy,”
Legal growers such as Canadian-owned PharmaCielo are now raising test crops for upcoming product lines, with the first commercial sales and exports slated for the coming weeks and months.
Colombia: coca is still the main product
But Colombia, officials here say, is the logical place for the industry’s future. As more countries approve some form of legalization, Colombia is bent on recapturing its global dominance, albeit through export licenses and customs procedures instead of clandestine shipments in the night.
It amounts to a sea change in thinking. Rather than part of the problem, marijuana is being viewed as one solution to Colombia’s struggle against illicit narcotics — particularly coca leaf, the building block of cocaine. Perhaps it is time, authorities say, for coca farmers to start seeing legal marijuana as a potentially lucrative substitute crop.