By / July 9, 2020

Medical cannabis will play a key role in revitalizing Colombia’s economy

This July 6th marks the fourth anniversary of Law 1787, which legalized cannabis for medical and scientific purposes in Colombia. This law gives a boost for an industry with great economic opportunity, in a global market estimated for 2025 at $166 billion (more than 600 trillion pesos, equivalent to one-sixth of the national economy, whose GDP is estimated at 1 trillion), according to the Euromonitor International measurement of February 2019.

Although the cannabis industry has not yet taken off in such proportions and the coronavirus has slowed down processes, the balance from various sectors is positive. Even more so considering that the law was regulated until 2017 with decree 613, which laid the foundation for Colombia to have more than 970 cannabis licenses and a production quota of 56 tons per year, the second country with the highest authorization by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

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The potential of the Colombian cannabis sector

In addition, between May and June of this year, Colombia made 6 commercial exports of cannabis seeds, which adds up to more than an average tons of products that arrived in Denver, United States.

The industry attracted the attention of the public sector and in the Antioquia Development Plan 2020-2023, the possibility for this department, as a territorial entity, to enter the business was established. In addition, now that the country is facing an economic crisis due to the COVID-19, the government has put more hope in the industry.

According to experts, the country “could become a pharmaceutical powerhouse in cannabis, surpassing the exports of cocoa, rubber and manufactured goods.” In addition to the global market projection, it is estimated that by 2030 the pharmaceutical sector in Colombia will generate $1.47 billion (33.3 billion pesos), of which 3.29 percent more than $44 million (1 billion pesos) will correspond to medical cannabis.

In December 2019, Fedesarrollo even published a report on the outlook for business in Colombia, which estimated that by 2025 this industry would be generating export revenues of between $865 and $1.038 billion (between 3 and almost 4 trillion pesos), but it remains to be seen how this will be affected by the pandemic.

The coming years will be crucial for the development of the industry

Rodrigo Arcila, President of the Colombian Association of Cannabis Industries (Asocolcanna), assessed as very positive these first four years, said that the company has been able to develop. However, he stated that the industry is facing a critical point, firstly because of the regulation that he believes, should generate greater competitiveness with less bureaucracy, the need to expand the portfolio of products that can be handled and, especially, because of the little support from the local financial sector.

Also, Juan Diego Álvarez, vice president of regulatory affairs at Khiron, a company in the sector, said that although medical cannabis has all the potential to be one of the country’s economic engines, restrictive interpretation of the rules by some entities has prevented the industry from fully consolidating and reaching its full potential.

On the other hand, Diana Valenzuela, legal director of Anandamida Gardens, also considered that the risk of over-regulation is a barrier for the industry and that institutions like Invima should work to allow more and more products for patients.

Furthermore, David Gordon, corporate director of Pharmacielo, considered that Colombia has a very real chance of being the global leader in the industry. However, he said that the global cannabis market is moving very fast, “if you are too cautious and reluctant to regulate you may find yourself in the position that the opportunity has passed. We can’t afford to take a slow approach, we have to focus on moving fast, not leaving care behind,” he said.

On regulatory changes, the Ministry of Justice is working on modifying the Decree 613, and according to Minister Cabello, it is expected that in the second half of 2020 the new decree will come into force. Among the modifications that the new rule will bring is that cannabis derivatives with less than 0.2 percent THC — the psychoactive component of the plant — will not be controlled, that masterful formulas can be sold in pharmaceutical establishments, drugstores, and authorized pharmacies, and that 10% of the cannabis from large companies must be purchased from small and medium growers.

The minister added that she also sees the challenge of developing, in the medium term, clear rules for the elaboration of food based on seeds, cannabis, and derivatives. The aim is to achieve regulation of hemp and to explore the medical and food markets for veterinary products, as well as the rationalization of procedures.

Colombia will further improve the access of patients to medical cannabis

The Government has been speeding up its processes. Between June 2019 and May 2020, the Ministry of Justice tripled the number of licenses granted, from 238 to 742. Since March this year, the Ministry of Health has authorized the sale of cannabis master preparations, which allow the prescription of specific formulas for each patient.

As of June of this year, Invima had certified 98 establishments in good manufacturing practices for medicines and 39 in good manufacturing practices for the manufacture of phytotherapeutic products, which allows them to produce cannabis products as long as they have authorized the pharmaceutical forms required for the approval of the health registration. In addition, Invima has issued 14 export certificates for finished products containing cannabis derivatives.

There are already 2 medicines with health registration and there is a laboratory certified in Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) that can make master formulas for patients.

However, for the ex-senator Juan Manuel Galán, author of the law that regulated medical cannabis, there’s more patient-focused work to be done. “The original spirit of the law is for patients to have access to a safe, good quality and price controlled substance,” he said, adding that there is a need to further develop the domestic market and scientific research to gather local evidence on the multiple uses of medical cannabis treatment.

He added that industrial uses of cannabis also need to be developed with hemp, a resistant fiber that several industries globally are using, among others, to replace plastic.

Dr. Sergio Isaza, president of the Colombian Medical Federation, explained that ideally, medical cannabis should become one of the daily tools available to a doctor, “but for that to happen, research, development, efficacy testing, adverse effect evaluation are all needed, and that can take several years,” he said.

As for the master formulas, Khiron’s vice president of regulatory affairs explained that any doctor can prescribe them, but since it is something very new, training is required.

Although the pandemic has slowed down some of those efforts, there are already patients being treated with these preparations, said Alvarez. He explained that through a clinic with doctors trained in these treatments, Khiron has treated more than 500 patients since March with master formulas to relieve chronic pain, as well as treat insomnia, loss of appetite and anxiety; the latter three situations, he said, are why nearly 30 percent of his patients consult.


(Featured image by Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels)

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