Since 2016, when Colombia managed to pass a bill that legalized the use of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, the country has aimed to become the biggest cannabis market in the region. Now, thanks to the continuous growth of the industry, even during the coronavirus pandemic, the dream to become a mecca of cannabis is turning into a reality that could be reached in just a few months.
On July 6th, 2016, Colombia took a historic step forward by signing the law on cannabis for medical and scientific use, promoted by then-Senator Juan Manuel Galán. This law, regulating medical and scientific cannabis, opened the door for hundreds of investments that attracted new jobs.
Its main objective was to facilitate access to good quality cannabis-based medicines, with good safety standards, at fair prices. In addition, it included social aspects such as technology transfer to small-scale cannabis growers so that they could actively participate in this new market.
Following the signing of this law, Colombia set an objective: to present itself to the world, and mainly to international investors, as the South American “Mecca of cannabis”.
The local entrepreneurs quickly identified the climatic conditions of Colombia, the labor force with some experience in the cultivation of cannabis and that could be hired at a low cost, the experience as a country of agricultural tradition, the privileged geographical location and the robust regulatory framework as the main advantages that our country has for the development of a strong and sustainable industry in time.
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Multinational cannabis firms are investing in Colombia’s cannabis market
Given these conditions, Colombia saw the announcement of millions of dollars in investments coming into the country from different countries, mainly Canada. Many of them are aimed at building large vertically integrated companies that would control the whole process, from the planting of the seed to the local marketing and export of the cannabis plant derivatives.
Despite the fact that Law 1787 set out broad principles for the use of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, it was the regulation of this law, through a series of decrees and guidelines that imposed the real rules of the game. It specified in more detail the different requirements for producing and marketing companies, restricting in practice the application of the law.
Through these documents, cannabis producers and those interested in working with cannabis-based medicines saw how, in practice, the application of the law would be restricted.
While the entire Colombian regulatory landscape was being clarified, the licensed production companies were directing their efforts towards obtaining funds, establishing export and commercialization channels abroad, mainly Europe, or simply trying to stay afloat.
Large cannabis producers have managed to export and market locally cosmetic products containing cannabidiol. Furthermore, recently, an export of certified seeds to the United States was achieved.
Also, in March of this year, one of the large production companies announced that it was ready to market its master preparations, which would be dispensed from the company’s central pharmacy in Bogotá.
Another generic drug company announced that it had obtained registration of a drug based on cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, for use as an adjuvant in the treatment of patients with difficult-to-control epilepsy, specifically Dravet and Lennox-Gastault syndrome.
Much work needs to be done in order to facilitate access to cannabis
The access to a standardized, safe, good quality and low-cost medicine has not materialized yet, despite the industry developments and the investments that the country has received.
These barriers to access cannabis, mean that patients continue and will continue to use homemade cannabis-based compounds, possibly adulterated and of questionable safety, putting their health at risk by finding relief from their symptoms not satisfied by conventional drugs.
As the industry keeps growing, it is time for all actors, from the large producers, the national and departmental governments, the small and medium producers, the regulatory bodies, the medical and scientific associations, to the guilds and patient groups, to work together to benefit the Colombian patients.
This is achieved through an evaluation of the implementation of the medical cannabis law, establishing parameters for access, making a judicious assessment of the needs of local patients, and the educational needs of health professionals in this area. That would offer more incentives to producers for research and development and in the creation of valuable products that meet the needs of Colombian patients and at the same time serve as an economic engine for the country.
Colombia continues to be a global leader in medical cannabis, and the country has the opportunity to build an industry that responds to the needs of Colombians. Aiming to become the biggest market in South America and establish the country as a true “Mecca of cannabis”.
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First published in La Marihuana, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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