Colombia has 44% of the world quota for medicinal cannabis

Board authorizes the country to produce 40.5 tons of marijuana for pharmacological and scientific purposes.

By: Paulina Angarita
January 10, 2018, 08:30 p.m.

In 2018, the largest production of medical cannabis in the world could be in Colombia. The country obtained a quota, for the second consecutive year, of 40.5 tonnes to legally grow the plant, equivalent to 44 percent of the world production authorized by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) for this year. 

The country did not use this quota in 2017, and much of the current quota will go into the process of regulatory and licensing adjustments. However, the quotas announced on January 2 clearly show that Colombia's potential in this sector is recognized by the Board, which is an independent body attached to the United Nations.

After Colombia, the United States is the country with the highest quota, with 33.4 tonnes approved, followed by Israel with 10.1 and Australia with 2.5 tonnes. A INCB document speaks of a total quota of 91.9 tonnes of legal production at the global level. 

Canada, which in recent years was the country with the highest growing and production quota, in 2018 will only be able to produce 0.4 tonnes of cannabis resin; that is, it would not have permission to grow it, but to manufacture its derivatives. However, permits could be reviewed by the board. 

Canada is one of the countries that has shown the most interest in the production of Cannabinol in Colombia, because of the high costs involved in growing the plant in its territory due to seasonal changes. In 2015, the United States, Germany, Italy and Spain imported 36.9 tonnes for the production of medications.

According to Andrés López, director of the National Narcotics Fund, between 2016 and 2017, a large number of scientists and investors visited the country to learn where the regulation is going and about the investment opportunities available in the development of the industry. López said that there are already more than 20 companies with licenses for the use of seeds and to develop crops of psychoactive and non-psychoactive plants; however, the ICA records on the species to be cultivated and the Invima certificates for the manufacture of derivatives are pending. 

Cannavida S.A.S., Pharmacielo Colombia Holdings S.A.S., Khiron Life Sciences Corp., FCM Global S.A.S., Canmecol S.A.S., Medcann S.A.S. and Pharmacielo Colombia Holdings S.A.S. are some of the companies that already have several of the required permissions. 

In August 2017, five resolutions were issued by the Ministries of Health and Justice which paved the way for the implementation of Law 1787 of 2016. In the following months the majority of licenses were issued, so most of the implementation of the production system will begin this year. 

"We have proposed a serious model, based on scientific evidence and focused on health and patients, which recognizes international drug treaties but is still modern since allows for extracts and not for practices such as smoking. This may be useful for other countries that have legislated medicinal cannabis recently but have decided not to produce it, thereby opening up economic opportunities for companies in Colombia, including small farmers", López said.

In addition to meetings with Procolombia and the Ministry of Commerce – aimed at starting to open markets abroad –, the Narcotics Fund and the Ministry of Justice have shared information with the Governments of Canada, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina, Germany and Australia to identify good practices and prevent risks, such as the diversion of production to illegal markets.

The allocation of quotas to companies will depend on demand

More and more countries are interested in using cannabis in medical treatments and scientific research. Andrés López, director of the National Narcotics Fund, spoke with EL TIEMPO about the operation of this industry in Colombia and the doors that it will open for the country. 

Colombia got the same quota as in 2017. What was the expectation?

We did not increase the quota with respect to 2017. The expectation will be set by entrepreneurs themselves, who are in charge of presenting and defending the prospects of their business before the government.

Given the approved 40.5 tonnes, can we meet the demand in Colombia for marijuana derivatives?

Demand is established on the basis of justified applications for quotas made by companies and the subsequent study performed by the Technical Group, which is made up of members from the MinHealth, MinJustice, National Narcotics Fund, Invima and ICA. As these requests arrive we will become aware of the demand. If Colombia needs a bigger quota or even if it's necessary decrease it, we can do it at any time of the year. We have a permanent mission in Vienna with the INCB that allows for good communication.

How do you allocate quotas?

Entrepreneurs must submit their application and support it with serious market arguments; that is to say, with market research. The government evaluates them through the technical group and approves them in whole or in part. There is no maximum per company and it is allocated as the numbers are adequately justified.

What doors are opened to the country with this quota for 2018?

The opportunity to provide physicians and patients with safe, effective and quality medications in the short term thanks to magistral preparations (medicines prepared exclusively for one patient). Also, the opportunity to export extracts and thereby consolidate investments and benefits for everyone involved in the production chain.

Does Colombia regret having banned the marketing of the medical marijuana leaf?

No. In the 21st century, drugs are not smoked. That's like regretting having morphine in blisters and wanting to go back to opium or laudanum.