Colombian President Ivan Duque signed a decree on July 23, lifting a prohibition on exporting dried cannabis flower—and investors abroad are taking notice.
“Colombia starts to play big, and with this decree we are putting ourselves at the forefront in terms of regulatory competitiveness, at least in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Duque said, acknowledging a move past the pharmaceutical market. “We are opening the space to do much more in cosmetics … [including] food and beverages and even textiles.”
Colombia had approved legislation in 2016 that regulates the production, distribution, sale and export of seeds, topicals and other cannabis products, but had prohibited the export of dried cannabis flower up until now, fearing that such a move would allow for the flow of legal cannabis products into the black market.
Decree 811 of 2021 modifies an earlier law that regulated the commercialization of medical cannabis, Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz said. The new law allows manufacturers to produce oils, extracts, textiles or food containing non-psychoactive cannabis—the country’s relative equivalent to hemp—as long as products have a biomass containing less than one percent of THC.
International Companies Get Involved with Colombia Cannabis Reform
Since Colombia’s medical cannabis market isn’t quite developed yet, most of the medical cannabis ends up in various international markets like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel.
“Lifting the prohibition on exporting the dry flower will start a regulatory process which we hope will be performed in great detail, to the highest international standards,” Juan Diego Alvarez, vice president of regulatory issues for cannabis producer Khiron, told Reuters.
President Duque signed the decree at an event organized at a facility owned by Clever Leaves, one of the 18 multinationals that invests and grows medical cannabis in Colombia.
“The change in policy by the Colombian government could double our addressable market from Colombia, a region where Clever Leaves has made a substantial capacity investment but where we have been limited in only selling processed or extracted products up to this point in time,” Clever Leaves CEO Kyle Detwiler said in a press release. “Nevertheless, since 2016, we have been building the capabilities required to produce a pharmaceutical-grade product.”
Clever Leaves will likely take advantage of the expanded opportunity to export dried cannabis flower, leveraging its 1.8 million sq. ft. CUMCS GACP certified cultivation facility, its EUGMP Part II certification covering the production of dry flower, and its 30-plus cannabinoid genetics that are registered in the country.
“This regulatory evolution will enable us to better serve our customers around the world by capitalizing on Latin America’s only EU GMP certified cannabis operation, which, much to many peoples’ surprise, already includes EU GMP certified dry flower production.”
A Safer Cash Crop for Colombia
Latin American cannabis exports could be worth up to $6 billion, the president said. A regulated industry would erase part of the need for deadly drug eradication tactics.
Regulated medical cannabis flower could also help to combat cocaine production—a much better option than spraying coca fields with potentially carcinogenic substances, something Bogotá is seeking to do right now, amid a surge in cocaine production.
Financial Times reports that cocaine production is a bigger—not smaller—problem in the area than in the 1990s. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that the active ingredient glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic for humans.” Between 2012 and 2017, coca production soared over 250 percent, according to the UN, and despite numerous efforts from President Duque, little progress has been made as coca operations continue to thrive.
For decades, paraquat poisoning on cannabis and coca plantations—sometimes involving US DEA agents—has left a burden of long-term health effects on Colombians.
Colombia is poised to become a major exporter of medical cannabis in Latin America.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications.