Colombia has become the darling of legalized cannabis in Latin America (LATAM). With medical cannabis, scientific study, and export legal in South America\’s northernmost country, expectations for the next decade are high.
With a lush landscape ideally suited to outdoor cultivation, international cannabis producers have flocked to Colombia to expand and launch new endeavors. Its remarkably pro-cannabis political stance is already sending shipments to Germany, Israel, and other big cannabis importers.
From the local perspective, there are more patients than ever. Still, a lack of knowledge and lack of access have made it difficult for the country\’s program to truly take off. As a result, the local medical cannabis sector still has ways to reach its full capacity.
The Potential of Colombia\’s Cannabis Exports Are an Investors Dream
For a decade, Colombia has been leading the way as a progressive and pro-cannabis LATAM country. In 2011 Colombia passed legislation that decriminalized cannabis, and in 2016 the government laid the groundwork for legal medical and scientific access.
This legislative foundation caused a stir among investors, with a host of new cannabis companies popping up across the country. According to Prohibition Partners, as many as 70 percent of the Colombian market is foreign-owned.
A few of the big brands operating in the country include Khiron Life Sciences, Avicanna, Clever Leaves, Flora Growth Corporation, and Pharmacielo. In the effort to facilitate the growth of this sector, the Colombian government assigned a handful of cannabis companies the special designation as a Project of Strategic National Interest (PINE). With the foreign money flowing in, it\’s an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Because of the focus on exports, Colombia has built a foundation as an international source for cannabis, hemp, seeds, and finished products. And, thanks to a recent draft proposal (Decree 811) submitted by the Colombian Ministry of Health and Social Protection, Colombian producers will soon be able to legally export flower and other raw plant materials.
Statista predicts that Colombia\’s medical cannabis sector will hit $444 million by 2028, with even some hope for a recreational one as well. This huge potential for growth, in combination with a political willingness to develop as a source for high-quality cannabis products, has led some to predict that it will rival Canada\’s current dominance over the international market.
Remaining Challenges for Patients in Colombia
Patient access in Colombia didn\’t happen overnight. As is the case in Brazil, the legislative changes made in 2016 have been slow to roll out.
In a recent press release, Kliron reported that it had served more than 10,000 patients over its short lifespan, with a total of 18,000 individual prescriptions within the first six months of 2021. Other numbers, reported by Prohibition Partners, reported approximately 3,000 patients in 2019, with that number growing to over 5,000 in 2020.
In a country of 50 million, the number of patients who have thus far received medical cannabis is barely a drop in the bucket. It\’s been over five years since legalization and two main hurdles need to be overcome for this local medical cannabis sector to reach more people.
1. Social Acceptance And Knowledge About Cannabis
First is acceptance and understanding. In Colombia, medical cannabis is a relatively new concept. In a country that has long battled the international drug trade, it\’s a challenging pivot for many people to see value in the plant when there was only violence for so long.
Most doctors in the country have not been trained in prescribing or dosing cannabis. Therefore, very few have adopted it as a part of their practice.
At the consumer level, there is still a lot of hesitation and a lack of knowledge about the medical applications for cannabis and CBD. Even for those patients lucky enough to live near a prescribing pharmacy, they may not have the information necessary to seek it out.
2. Limited Access to Cannabis
The second dilemma for Colombia\’s local cannabis sector is one of accessibility. In the recent past, there were few doctors and few compounding pharmacies helping patients obtain cannabinoid-based therapies.
As Paola Andrea Cubillos-Sánchez of the Colombian Medical Association of Medicinal Cannabis in Medellin explained, \”As healthcare professionals, it is our duty to inform and educate ourselves, from unbiased sources, with respect to the potential uses of cannabis derived compounds, to be able to ethically, competently and in an evidence-based fashion, respond to our patients\’ needs.\”
But, gradual change is coming. With the same decree that opened up international exports of flowers, lawmakers also sought to improve patient access. That meant creating channels for most of Colombia\’s pharmacies to carry and dispense medical cannabis. As a result, patients living in most urban areas will soon have access to medical cannabis through more than 14,000 possible locations — instead of just a few.
High Growth Potential for Both Local and Export Sectors
Colombia is uniquely positioned to become a critical international source for medical cannabis, with relationships already in place with the largest importers on earth.
And while medical cannabis for Colombians has been slow to take off, this will undoubtedly change thanks to societal shifts and improved access. The government substantially increased the number of pharmacies legally allowed to dispense medical cannabis, which will do wonders for patient access.
Thanks to the continued support of the Colombian government, the next decade of growth for the medical cannabis sector will prove an exciting one. Investors are already lining up to access this market, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.