ONE STEP AT A TIME

Colombia 2019 | HEALTH | INTERVIEW

theracann INTERNATIONAL seeks to enable the global medical cannabis sector, and believes Colombia must tread carefully if it wishes for the sector to have a prosperous future.

Chris Bolton
BIOGRAPHY
Chris Bolton holds a BA and an LLB from the University of Calgary. His career has seen him take leadership positions in the fields of law, compliance, and project management for firms in Canada, Panama, and Russia.

What's your corporate mission in Colombia?
Our corporate mission is to stabilize the international cannabis sector. So far, we have only had five years to stabilize the sector; in comparison, aeronautics had 200 years and auto had 100 years. The number of countries that have flipped to legalization just over the last 24 months has further made it harder to convince the international banking authorities to allow money transfers related to the cannabis industry. Moreover, an equally significant challenge is finding bulk buyers interested in repeatedly acquiring high-quality cannabis products. In order to stabilize the industry, we had to find a way to control these projects. We built a methodology called Benchmark SOLUTION, which is a consultancy service that plans, designs, implements, and manages the facilities for a minimum five years. So unlike other consultancies, we see it through a team that is present at the facilities all around the world. This solution comprises five different of lines of business and each one has a director in each country. So, all directors and teams understand the regulation and processes for any particular project. The industry is at a point now where large-scale wholesale opportunities are absolutely real.

What's the importance of certification to stabilize the cannabis market?
That's an absolute weakness. The variety of different standard requirements to manage the process from raw material to final product supply chain is huge. On the analysis side, just making sure that the date and labeling is reliable under the ISO:17025 standard is a challenge. The problem is to find labs that handle cannabis or are accredited to do cannabis analysis. In case one does find a lab, the question is if that lab will buy or subscribe to a firm that is using methods that other governments have adopted. We purposely partnered with a firm to use their methods globally, which are specifically developed for cannabis. Next, we have the good management practice (GMP); the problem is that different governments have different standards. Then, there are organizations that are working to develop their own methods for all of this, called consumer-level standards. We have large institutions like SGS as auditors that do this work themselves.

How are the banking and financial issues limiting the development of the industry in Colombia?
I am surprised the sector even survived this long without the banks. In Canada, we worked with Scotiabank, with which we had a history of 14 years. Up until November 2016, all operations were running smoothly, but then our account was flagged because it belonged to the cannabis sector. We did not process or distribute cannabis, but we consulted in applications for cannabis and they gave us 18 days to close our account. So, trying to scramble to get another bank account was exceptionally difficult. That said, many of the businesses related to the cannabis industry across the world face similar problems. Some of these businesses have shifted entirely to cash, however, in our case, everything has to be done through wire transfers.

How do you see theracann INTERNATIONAL's future working with Colombian firms in the next five years?
Well, Colombia is at the crossroads, honestly. It has to start to demonstrate it can produce high-quality traceable cannabis, or it will get black-marked. Countries that get black-marked never come back. They just cannot get the confidence of an international jurisdiction that things are going to work well. The other challenge is that the Colombian banking system has a perception of the old days. We need to build the competence to show the cannabis industry in Colombia is working well. On the contrary, I have seen projects in which cannabis that should not be coming from a specific area is finding its way. Why? Because the auditing in traceability is not strong enough. We do projects in which crop production and quality controls are lacking, so there is still a lot to be done.