Few countries have been ravaged by war more than the South American nation of Colombia, but from the ashes of over 50 years of conflict, cannabis cultivation may be the key to bringing the nation back together and elevating its citizens out of debilitating poverty.
Since the 1960s, cartels and drug empires used the immense wealth garnered by trafficking cannabis and illicit drugs to fund an army that they loosed on the nation’s government and rival organizations. Then in 2016, under the leadership of President Juan Manuel Santos, the warring factions agreed to a ceasefire, ending over a half century of fighting.
That same year President Santos overhauled the nation’s outdated drug laws and legalized medical cannabis. The Colombian government’s decision allowed them to reap the financial benefits of the cannabis industry that had funded small guerrilla operations so well that they were able to stand up to the entirety of the Colombian military. In addition to providing medicine to its people, the law also granted authorization for commercial cannabis cultivation for medical purposes.
“It is not just developing the cannabis business. This will help generate funds to develop other businesses. Politicians and local communities want to develop the region and cannabis, combined with other agricultural activity will take them out of poverty.”
Canadian-based PharmaCielo, which was founded in 2014, has a powerhouse board of directors that includes former executives from Phillip Morris and Bayer. The company is requesting that the Colombian government allow it to cultivate cannabis on land previously occupied by rebels who once used it as a base of operations, and where a large portion of Colombia’s cannabis was produced. PharmaCielo is awaiting approval on its cultivation license application, but it is currently licensed in Colombia to process and manufacturer cannabis oil.
“Receiving cultivation licenses is the next stage in PharmaCielo’s goal of becoming Colombia’s first fully licensed and integrated grower and manufacturer of cannabis oil extracts,” PharmaCielo President and CEO Dr. Patricio A. Stocker said in a press release.
PharmaCielo’s sales pitch includes the promise to pay the growers a better wage than the previous tenants. Under the cartel’s rule, Colombians were forced to work in unbearable conditions for little to no money. The company has chosen the area of Medellín for their Colombian headquarters. “The medical marijuana industry can become bigger than coffee, bigger than flowers,” said Stocker. “Our aim is to help the most [troubled] regions in the country.”
“They were in very bad shape in this area, they have a very long history of suffering there,” Stocker added. “It is not just developing the cannabis business. This will help generate funds to develop other businesses. Politicians and local communities want to develop the region and cannabis, combined with other agricultural activity will take them out of poverty.”
Colombia’s location near the equator also makes it an ideal location for cannabis cultivation. The country receives a steady 12 hours of sunshine regardless of the time of year. This allows farmers in the area to cultivate outdoors year round without the added cost of electricity for lights. Colombia is also rich with natural water sources, so companies can avoid significant water charges as well. When added to the country’s low cost of labor, it is no wonder why companies like PharmaCielo are interested in investing heavily in Colombia.
This national shift toward cannabis is something truly unique. Colombia received $10 billion over the last 15 years from the United States to combat the nation’s alarming drug industry. Now North American companies are looking to invest billions of dollars to grow the medical cannabis market in the country. The irony is not lost on Colombia’s president, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for ending the conflict in Colombia.
“It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States,” he said during his Nobel acceptance speech. He continued that the United States’“War on Drugs” is creating significant environmental damage and violence to under-developed nations and is forging an ecosystem for black markets to flourish.
Many farmers in Colombia are switching their crops over to cannabis. Where traditional plants like tomatoes and mangos have limited sales opportunities outside of local markets, cannabis has a global market and a demand that cannot be satiated.
Instead of competing with the big corporations, a group of 53 local cultivators is looking to partner with PharmaCielo. The CauCannabis Cooperative was formed in July of 2016 and applied for a joint license with the Canadian operation. The cooperative hopes the incoming companies will utilize their already operational farms in lieu of starting from scratch with a new facility.