Over $400 million has been invested in Colombian medical cannabis so far, and the country is in the early innings of an industry with massive potential, a Colombian government official said Monday.
Juliana Villegas Restrepo – vice president of exports at ProColombia, a government agency in charge of promoting Colombian non-traditional exports – told MJBizCon’s inaugural Latin American Cannabis Symposium in Bogotá that it will take time for Colombia to establish itself as a global player in the medical cannabis industry. But she said the potential is real.
Restrepo gave the keynote address on the first day of the two-day symposium. Speaking to an audience of over 500 entrepreneurs, investors and executives, she said almost 1,000 people are employed in Colombia’s medical cannabis industry.
“We have a long way to go, but we already started and we have already seen progress,” Restrepo said.
“If entrepreneurs adjust to the demands of the global cannabis market and to the regulations Colombia has today, there is a path ahead (for businesses here). This is a great message for any investor who is interested in investing in Colombia to develop this industry and to use Colombia as an export platform,” she added.
Following are key takeaways from her Q&A with MJBizDaily international analyst Alfredo Pascual.
No immediate results
The industry needs to go through a research and development phase before any sales can begin. Genetics needs to be registered with the Colombian Agricultural Institute. Products need to be approved by Colombia’s National Food and Drug Surveillance Institute.
It takes time to develop standardized and stable products. Anxious investors must be patient.
Cannabis and avocados
Restrepo compared the emerging cannabis industry to Colombia’s avocado’s market. Seven years ago Colombia did not have any avocado trees, but now the country is among the top 10 exporters of the fruit in the world. That export market is worth $60 million today to Colombian businesses.
This was achieved through consistent dialogue and collaboration between the private sector and regulators. Restrepo said any single company cannot make it too far without a strong industry and government support. Like the avocado industry, medical cannabis businesses need to support broad industry growth in concert with regulators.
Colombia offers the land, workforce and regulatory framework for companies to focus on a specific segment of the cannabis industry.
One of those opportunities is to develop differentiated genetics for the purpose of wholesaling, both in the domestic market – where hundreds of companies already have a license or are applying to have one, but they still haven’t developed their own genetics – and in the export market.
As of Sept. 27, only eight companies in Colombia had fully registered cultivars, according to the Agricultural Institute. The eight firms have registered 72 cultivars.
Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]