Rich Prospects

Colombia's medical cannabis industry

With the health benefits having eclipsed the stigma, the medical cannabis industry promises to flourish, with remedial effects for both producer and consumer.

As Colombia’s medical cannabis industry continues to establish itself, it is already generating wealth for entrepreneurs, investors, and local communities, quickly becoming a driver of growth for the wider economy. Indicative of the traction it has been gaining, in early 2019 Colombia saw its first listing of a sector player, valued at USD300 million.

By the end of 2018, 214 firms had applied for one of four types of cannabis production license issued by the Colombian Ministry of Health and Justice; licenses that also enable export. Among them were pharmaceutical enterprises keen to build on ideal natural conditions prevailing and the potential to meet rising regional demand.

Medical grade cannabis was not pioneered in Colombia, and nor was it the first nation to legalize the product. That title went to Uruguay in 2014.

Yet due to its privileged location and geography, as well as progressive and forward- thinking regulatory and legal frameworks, Colombia has unique potential to become part of the global medical cannabis value chain and make that industry a driver of sustainable development for the country.

Indeed, boasting a 12-hour day-night cycle, enabling year-round outdoor cultivation, Colombia is ideally placed to capitalize on an international industry estimated to have scaled USD55.8 billion worldwide by 2025, on forecast average yearly growth of 17.5%.

Backed by law

While work on a legal framework dates back to 1986, the local cannabis industry industry only properly emerged in 2015.

Given Colombia’s unwelcome association with narcotics, then-president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón insisted that the medicinal component would not be the thin end of the wedge leading to wholesale legalization.

The 2016 law covering the scientific and medicinal use of cannabis allowed for the legal cultivation of up to 40.5 tons, which amounts to 44% of the limit permitted by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

The formalized medical cannabis industry took root in 2017, at which time the government issued five resolutions determining the regulation of individual and corporate production of cannabis for medical and scientific use.

Subsequent amendments address the all-important issues of manufacturing safety and quality standards. And so with the government championing regulated cultivation by issuing licenses to community cooperatives, cannabis is no longer the preserve of non-state actors, but a much needed generator of wealth in rural communities.

The nation is in fact now expected to account for around 44% of the Global Medical Cannabis Industry’s global exports in near future now that the prevailing regulatory environment incentivizes investments industrialization, research and export infrastructure. Colombia’s target is to supply 40.5 tons of medicinal cannabis annually from this year onward.

A smart operation

Clever Leaves is a vertically-integrated licensed producer of medical cannabis in Colombia which has comprehensively invested in innovation to develop precision farming practices.

Today it ranks among the world’s leading players in the medical cannabis industry. With immediate impact, its extraction and transformation laboratory, located in Tocancipá, processes the locally grown crop.

A team of scientists, doctors, and researchers, working at state-of-the-art facilities, start production of the raw material with a comprehensive process of decarboxylation, extraction, distillation and chromatology.

From this, extracts are obtained, isolated, and distilled, in addition to the production of finished medical products. Effectively, Clever Leaves has developed an entire value chain where the investment in, and return on, the cannabis sector drives innovation and scientific advancement, as well as employment and sustainable development within the economy.

Earlier in 2019 Clever Leaves made history by obtaining the first license in Colombia for the export of cannabis to Canada, having met all criteria stipulated by Health Canada.

Its vision is nothing if not ambitious; to become the world’s preeminent grower of medical cannabis by 2023. With legislation in place and clear international demand, the game is certainly on.