Colombia, a nation historically recognized for its connection to illicit drug trade, is witnessing a dramatic evolution in its agricultural landscape.
A new kind of crop has taken root in its rich soils: medicinal cannabis.
The peaceful mountains of southwestern Colombia, particularly in the Valle del Cauca department, have seen an exponential growth in cannabis cultivation, but not for the reasons one might think.
In places like Dagua, a municipality in Valle del Cauca, a shift is happening. Cannabis, once feared and stigmatized, is now being cultivated for scientific, industrial, and most importantly, medicinal purposes.
This industry has sparked an economic revolution, stirring hope in the hearts of the Colombian people and offering an opportunity for economic and social transformation.
Transforming Stigma into Economic Opportunity
One of the pioneering enterprises spearheading this movement is Green Leaf Colombia, a venture created in 2017 by four friends.
They turned their dream into reality, building a successful business that sold over 800 kilos of premium cannabis flower for medicinal use in 2022.
The customer base includes more than 15 legally licensed entities, showcasing the tremendous growth of this new market.
In an interview, Green Leaf Colombia’s founding partner, Camilo Martinez, discussed the breadth of their offerings.
“We have crops (grown) for extraction purposes from which we make creams, ointments, oils and other derivatives. Over time, the companies we’ve sold to have created new products that are exported all over the world.”
Green Leaf Colombia is not alone in its endeavor. The Valle del Cauca region houses over 40 similar ventures, and Colombia has nearly 4,000 licensed growers.
These businesses see potential in the medicinal cannabis industry, viewing it as a ‘green gold’ capable of stimulating economic growth.
The mission transcends economic objectives. Martinez articulates,
“It’s about dispelling myths, about no longer saying it’s a ‘mata que mata’ (plant that kills). On the contrary, it’s a plant that heals. In a space of 1,500 (square) meters, we provide employment to 10 workers, several of them peasant farmers.”
Navigating the Cannabis Regulatory Landscape
The Colombian government legalised medicinal cannabis in 2016, paving the way for ventures like Green Leaf.
Additional decrees and resolutions in recent years have further expanded the use of cannabis to non-psychoactive components in the food, textile, and beverage sectors.
A bill decriminalizing the sale and use of recreational cannabis is currently making its way through the Colombian legislature, symbolizing a potential new frontier for the industry.
Yet, amidst these exciting developments, a note of caution is necessary. Dr. Maria Fernanda Arboleda, an anesthesiologist specializing in chronic pain and palliative care and an expert on medicinal cannabis, advocates for prudence.
“Cannabis should be taken seriously and patients should only take it with a prescription … you shouldn’t consume a product sold in clandestine places; everything should be under professional supervision,”
Research into medicinal cannabis is accelerating across Colombian universities, particularly in the departments of Cauca, Putumayo, and Nariño.
As Colombia continues to shift from its notorious past, the medicinal cannabis industry is poised to play a pivotal role in its economic and social development.
The hills of Colombia, once sown with seeds of conflict, are now blooming with a promise of healing and prosperity.
Despite the challenges, the future of medicinal cannabis in Colombia looks bright, and the country appears ready to capitalize on this new ‘green gold’ rush.