While Colombia was an early mover in the race towards a legal cannabis market, regulatory and institutional hurdles are still holding the country back, preventing it from becoming competitive in the global cannabis market. The challenges include slow-moving bureaucracy, limited access to banking, and the additional certification requirements that the country’s medical-only approach imposes.
The legalization of cannabis is a global trend. Its therapeutic and medicinal benefits are now undeniable. The world, and America in particular, is in a slow but irreversible race towards cannabis legalization.
A complex process kills Colombia’s early-mover cannabis advantage
But this process is slow, regulated at every step of the way, and still under construction. This brings tremendous challenges in our race to competitiveness in the global cannabis market. The coordination of so many government agents that figure in the industry – such as ministries of Justice and Health, ICA, Invima, and DIAN – implies a complex regulatory integration which, in Colombia, is coming at the price of losing the fundamental advantage it gained with the enactment of Law 1787.
To understand the dichotomy of the cannabis situation, in legal terms we must refer to the first norm of the Political Constitution of Colombia which, in its article 49, indicates that “the carrying and consumption of narcotic or psychotropic substances is prohibited, except for medical prescription.” Through sentences of the different courts and national laws, it has been sought to configure its legality. But it has taken us five years since the enactment of Law 1787 of 2016 to integrate the control entities for cannabis, each with its guidelines, to build an industry with growing global demand.
Can Colombia develop its legal cannabis industry to global standards?
Now, getting into the matter of what concerns us in this article: has Colombia reached the degree of legality that includes the entire production chain, which allows to competitively develop the cannabis industry under international standards?
It is not easy to answer. After almost five years of decrees, modifications, circulars, and concepts of all the entities, we could think that the legal work for cannabis has been completed. However, from our point of view, there is still a lot of work to be done. We will mention some of these institutional shortcomings that are holding Colombia’s cannabis industry back in terms of competitiveness.
Access to banking and seeds an ongoing problem for Colombian entrepreneurs
Access to banking is one of the first challenges for Colombia’s cannabis entrepreneurs. The dependence of banks on international standards and regulations due to their subsidiaries means that they do not allow the opening of accounts for cannabis businesses. The national bank and emblematic for the agricultural sector, the Agrarian Bank, also does not even have clear policies for account openings.
The second major challenge is access to certified seeds; so far 68 companies have managed to obtain seed licenses, which makes them the only ones authorized to commercialize and study them. The cannabis bubble in Colombia has inflated seed prices to unsustainable levels over time, with costs of $50,000 per unit and cuttings costing up to $5,000,000 taking small and medium-sized growers out of the market.
Medical cannabis raises regulatory hurdles
The third great challenge for Colombia’s cannabis industry derives from the fact that Colombia, with its decrees and laws, determined that the legalization of cannabis would be allowed for medicinal and scientific uses. Therefore, entrepreneurs in the industry must prepare themselves technically to obtain international certifications that endorse the process of planting and processing (CUMS-GAP, Global GAP, SGS Medical Cannabis Certification, among others) and that require very high capital investments to be obtained.
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First published in EL ESPECTADOR, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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